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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hereafter I Was Drawn In

Hereafter = 4 out of 5 Stars
George: I don't really do this anymore.
There are certain words that I generally don't like to use. One of those words is corny.  Unfortunately, upon seeing initial trailers for this film, "corny" was the only word that really kept coming to mind.  I was not quite sure why.  The film was directed by Clint Eastwood, who has a pretty solid track record.  It stars Matt Damon, who is consistently good in films.  And it has an interesting premise, which is quite a change up as far as Eastwood films are concerned. Fortunately, this film actually delivered far greater than I thought it would.

The film is divided between three main characters.   We begin with Marie, played by Cecile De France, a French journalist who has recently survived a tragic tsunami incident in Thailand, nearly drowning herself.  During a state of unconscious, Marie believes that she saw a glimpse of the afterlife and becomes focused on finding a greater understanding for what she saw.  The next character is George, played by Matt Damon.  George is in fact a psychic, with the ability to communicate with people in the afterlife.  He once conducted business as such, before the stress involved became too much for him.  Now, George lives quietly in San Francisco, hoping to carve out his own life, free of his abilities.  Finally, there is Marcus, played by Frankie and George McLaren, a 12-year old boy from London, whose twin brother, Jason, was recently killed in an auto collision.  Marcus, struck with grief, spends his time trying to find out more about the afterlife, going into a very sad state during his journey.  All of these characters spend the film essentially dealing with death.
Billy: You have a duty to do it.  You have a gift.
George: It's not a gift Billy, it's a curse.
Now despite the seemingly somber tone of the film, it is in fact very engaging.   Eastwood directs the film in such a way that the characters all function in a particular manner, which feels right and suited to the performances given.  The narrative weaving is nothing especially clever, just handled fairly straightforward, with each character having their turn to develop their stories further.

The ads attempt to sell this film as some kind of disaster thriller mixed with ghosts, but be aware that this is basically a straight drama with a supernatural element to it.   That being said, the opening sequence of this film, which depicts a tsunami destroying a city street, is very well handled.  It is nice to see Eastwood stretching himself into new territory, combining his interest in this story with enough ambition to create a very dynamic set piece.   It is also worth noting that Eastwood once again scores this film, but delivers one with the right notions that are both subtle and haunting in an effective manner (he also doesn't sing in the end credits).

The film was scripted by Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Queen.  For this film, he handled the task of equipping these characters with substantial material and keeping them interesting.  I cannot say that I had a favorite character arc to watch, as I really was engaged by each one.  In addition to how it was scripted story-wise, I was also pleased in how it dealt with the concept of the afterlife.   I've felt that some Eastwood films have been bogged down by how he injects religion into his stories or characters, but this film wisely sidesteps that all together.   The film doesn't approach afterlife from any particular standpoint, just as an interest which links these characters.

The performances were all strong.  Damon does his thing, and does it well, playing George with a quiet sadness, wishing he could do something with his life that didn't involve becoming incredibly personal with others in such a revealing way.  De France has a great likability about her, which makes dramatic notions surrounding her search easier to watch.  The McLaren twins also do well, especially for being very young and new actors.  Small, but effective roles come from Bryce Dallas Howard and Jay Mohr of all people as well.

I have little to say against the film; however, I felt the final act, where the characters inevitably meet one another, had a couple beats that did not feel quite right, which includes a final moment in the film, but I still know what it was going for and appreciated its conclusion.   As far as Eastwood films go, this is a great step forward after his previous features, Invictus and Gran Torino, which I felt were merely average for a man quite capable of making more interesting films.

This film may be a drama and deliberately paced as such, but I was never bored while watching it.  I was enthralled in the characters, details, and settings. Only very bad films bore me, and that is certainly not the case here.
George: If you're worried about being on your own, don't be; you're not.

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