' Cinema Romantico: Hereafter

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hereafter

Marie is a French journalist having dinner with the producer she's kinda seeing. She just recently had a terribly traumatic experience. She asks him: "What do you think happens when he die?" Woah.  There's some light dinner table talk.  "That's it," he replies. "The lights go out." Moments later he asks her: "More champagne?" Well, yeah. I mean, you might as well, right? If when we die the lights just go out and that's it, why not have more champagne? And a steak. Porterhouse. Medium rare. And an entire pecan pie. With whipped cream. Gobs and gobs and gobs of whipped cream. The richest whipped cream you got. Thank you.

"Hereafter", Clint Eastwood's latest film from behind the camera, working from a screenplay by Peter Morgan, explores the possibility of its title through three separate stories that converge near the end. Matt Damon is George, once a skilled psychic in San Francisco who could communicate with peoples' loved ones from beyond. But it was a curse, not a blessing, not to him, and he doesn't do it anymore. Except pretty much everyone he sees wants him to give them a reading. Including the lovely young girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) he meets in a cooking class.

In this role Damon is so good in such an unforced way it is all but guaranteed the performance will be overlooked. A worn-out man who has essentially withdrawn from life itself. When he does sumbit to the readings he does not want to give he presents them much like a guy clocking in and then clocking out, a little irritated, and he always apologizes, always thinks he got something wrong, even if he usually doesn't. His specific reaction in a doorway to an inevitable turn of events hurts that much more because of how little he chooses to do in the face of it. Fine work by one of the best. Please, everyone, notice it.

In London we meet twin brothers Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren), saddled with an unstable mother whom they both love unconditionally. But Jason's sudden death turns everything inside-out for Marcus. His mother has to go away to get better and he has to go live with another family with which he hardly communicates, instead attempting to find a way to keep the friendship with his brother alive.

The aforementioned Marie (Cecile de France) as the film opens is on vacation in Thailand at the time of the horrific 2004 Tsunami. She survives but barely, having seem to have gone to a point where perhaps she saw the infamous White Light before returning to life. This sets her forth on a spiritual struggle of sorts.

The manner in which Eastwood handles the Tsunami best represents how he handles the whole film (and, in fact, how be handles his best films). There is little to no build-up. No musical cues to allow the audience to anticipate. So straight forward. Are the effects astounding or subpar? I suspect they lean more toward the latter but that is not really the point because the emotional execution is the former. Everything is normal and then absolutely nothing is. Who among us can ever say what's coming?

But "Hereafter", thankfully, is no messenger embedded within the framework of a supposed movie. It is rarely preachy and never asks you to believe for or against. It just kind of wants you to consider. If there was any sort of significant flaw it was feeling almost as if it failed to build to a satisfying emotional release. I'm really not sure I cared for that last scene. For one thing, it's the only time the otherwise restrained musical score becomes insistent and it's the only time the concurrent storylines became unwillingly mashed together. Would this have really happened? And is it really as fulfilling as it appears to be on the surface? Or is that just a personal bias?

Then again I suppose it's entirely perfect this film ends with a question mark. I believe in a Hereafter. Honest, I do. But just in case....more champagne.

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