Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: Hereafter

Dir. Clint Eastwood
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 130mins

If one must pinpoint a pivotal moment in Clint Eastwood’s septuagenarian career it would have to be the moment his character performs a morally questionable act of mercy upon a young boxer in Million Dollar Baby, who lies crippled in a hospital bed with little motivation for survival. That Eastwood has always been intrigued – or, even, outright fascinated – by death is not anything you couldn’t surmise with a quick glance of the man’s oft enviable resume, but since his character walked out of that hospital, euthanasia kit in hand, Eastwood’s films have progressed to even more morbid territory with more than a hint of acknowledgment that, yes, he is quite an old man and that death is nearer than far. Like, ya know, whatever.

Invictus feels like an anomaly amongst a roster of films that includes Letters from Iwo Jima, Gran Torino and even Space Cowboys. Now comes Hereafter, which finds Eastwood discussing the possibilities of life after death in his most obvious fashion yet. It’s such a shame then that the film feel as if it has being directed by an actual corpse, the finished product ending up as not only one of the worst films of this or any other year, but surely the nadir of Eastwood’s career.

Eastwood’s film follows three individuals who have all been affected by death; Cécile De France’s disaster survivor Marie Lelay, Matt Damon’s likeomgforreals psychic George Lonegan, and Marcus – played by twins Frankie and George McLaren – whose twin brother has died in a traffic accident. That they’re based in three separate countries doesn’t stop Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan from contriving them into the same location by film’s end for group hug therapy at a book fair (A BOOK FAIR!!) that is so perfunctory that even Derek Jacobi can’t seem to muster up excitement to play himself.

Beginning with a scene set during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed 230,000 people, during which de France’s sexy, rich, talented TV host Marie survives – but the 8-year-old girl she separates from her mother, presumably, does not – Hereafter then continues for two hours to follow her as she takes paid leave from her French television news anchor position to write a book about her experiences with the “hereafter”. De France certainly plays Marie like a woman on the brink of complete and utter meekness and the angriest she gets is when the marketing posters of her spruiking Blackberry telephones are taken down all over Paris and nobody told her. It’s a good thing she could take a quick trip into the French mountains to visit a doctor at a chalet and sip tea in the courtyard or else she might have a mental breakdown at the mere unfortunatenesses of it all.

Over the other side of the ocean is Damon’s George, a man who actually really is a psychic. We know this because he sits in rooms lit only by lamps with low-watt bulbs. His brother is Jay Mohr and he wants to spin George into a get rich quick scheme, but upon meeting the bouncy Melanie (the severely-coiffed Bryce Dallas Howard) – in an Italian cooking class that runs the gamut from how to chop tomatoes to how to chop more tomatoes – he realises he’s just had enough of this life and takes his six month severance package and takes a holiday to England. As one tends to do when they’ve been laid off from their only source of income, naturally.

And lastly, in England, is Marcus, who is in desperate need of contacting his twin brother on “the other side” that he steals money from his foster parents and attends psychic readings that are omgsofunny because we all know psychics are fake, but, oh wait, George isn’t! Naturally they cross paths, not too long after the young boy survives the London tube bombings that killed 56 people and injured 700 others. And to think, I haven’t even mentioned the deadbeat counsel estate mother, a laughable representation of the book publishing industry and the strings-laden fantasy romance sequence that would be laughed off the screen if it were anyone but Clint Eastwood.

Hereafter’s five-hour running time is so glacially paced it’s maddening. Roughly nine hours into Eastwood’s subtle-to-the-point-of-non-existence film I actually found myself throwing my hands in the air in defeat as Eastwood donates several minutes to Marie reading a letter. That’s it! She reads. She stands and she reads. Not out loud, but to herself. Or how about the long sequence in which George is given a guided tour around Charles Dickens’ London house for, quite literally, no reason at all other than a sloppy excuse to get his character in yet another drab, poorly lit location.

12 hours of this could be acceptable if the characters spoke about anything worth speaking about, but they don’t. When George reveals one character’s past, they cry some tears and are then vanquished from the picture. Because treating childhood abuse victims with such abrupt nonchalance is what I expect from a gloomy and morose film such as this. All these characters talk such endless waffle that it’s hard not to imagine Eastwood’s editor Joel Cox and Gary Roach slumping over the control panels in the editing booth; why spout gooey mumbo jumbo for 15 hours when you can do it for 18 hours instead?

Hereafter is nothing more than 23 hours of wasted opportunity. Even if the opening scene – one scene that somehow garnered it an Academy Award nomination over the likes of TRON: Legacy, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Monsters, which uses minor effects sequences to greater potential – is admittedly quite impressive, what is it actually good for? Five minutes of dazzling visual effects, albeit with the stench of tackiness, in service of a story that didn’t deserve the dust it was surely covered with.

There isn’t an exciting moment to be found within its 37 hour running time. Perhaps Eastwood and Morgan just chose the wrong characters to focus on? Surely not everyone who survived the tsunami had the same boring monochromatic vision. Surely not all psychics – legitimate or not – are this wet. Surely not all British twins are this inert and look like characters from Angela’s Ashes. There’s nothing tangible to get an audience’s mind running as to the possibilities of the hereafter that Clint so desperately wants us to feel. Eastwood offers nothing close to a spiritual experience with his nonplussed direction and his actors are nothing more than sounding boards, ironically lifeless ones at that, for Morgan’s preposterous nonsense.

Laugh out loud moments are dotted about in between the tired, rubbish philosophical gobbledygook. Noodles for brains and a cold, empty space where it’s heart should be, Hereafter uses disasters for its narrative thrust, but merely ends up being a disaster itself. For a film about finding solace in death, Hereafter proves to be even more of a lifeless shell than its shockingly obvious Blackberry and Virgin Air product placement would suggest. F


Walter L. Hollmann said...

Fun Fact: Peter Morgan did the first draft in a weekend, I believe, and went one to do more drafts because he knew it wasn't a solid story yet. Clint Eastwood got the job to direct...and insisted on using the first draft. Peter Morgan was confused.

Joel said...

Thanks for this review. I'll skip it. Sounds like a waste of 41 hours that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the legs up. I had a similar reaction to Gran Torino which a lot of people loved for whatever reason/ I though it was an embarrassing and stupid. I much preferred Changeling which was released around the same time.

Glenn Dunks said...

Walter, that doesn't surprise me at all.

Joel, yes! keep that running gag going as long as we can!

Anon, legs up? I never saw Gran Torino, but I loathed Changeling. Not as much as Hereafter, but I did not like that one at all.

And Kay, if you're reading, I don't approve comments that are just trollish, antagonistic hate. Don't like it? Don't read it.