Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: Hereafter (2010)

I’d just like to say that there will be SPOILERS in this review, so if you don’t like those, then don’t read this one yet! Until after you see the movie. Then I encourage you to read it and tell me how right I am about it.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren

What can you say about Clint Eastwood, anyway? He’s a legend. He’s acted in a million awesome movies and directed a ton of other awesome ones. His last film, Gran Torino, was my favorite of the ones he’s directed that I’ve seen so far, but I think this newest one beats even that. Hereafter is just a stunning piece of film.

It’s just so refreshing to see something like this. I don’t really know why, since it’s not like this movie is really doing anything that groundbreaking – unless telling a good story is groundbreaking. Eastwood’s directing style is really bare bones and simple, and surprisingly, that’s really all he needs to bring out the power in his stories, anyway. He doesn’t need anything else. There isn’t anything about this that needs to be trimmed down – he shows everything in a very stark, direct way that doesn’t try to hide anything and shows you everything that needs to be seen.

So, what is that plot anyway? Well, it’s one of those movies like Magnolia or Crash where you get a bunch of stories of different characters that are connected in some way. Although honestly this movie is better than either of those. It’s just so well done that the stories don’t even feel that separate – they really just feel like one big, entwined web, and that’s how all of these films should feel. One story involves Matt Damon as an introverted psychic who can see dead people in the mind of the living, and another involves a woman who was a victim of a tsunami. A third involves a little boy whose twin brother has been killed in a truck accident.

The cinematography is just excellent here, with great, vivid coloration, snappy, on-point shots and a huge, epic sweep to it all that makes the opening tsunami sequence one of the most memorable you will see this year. Watch as the giant wave sweeps over everything; it’s downright terrifying to imagine yourself on the ground there. It just comes right out of nowhere! There’s really no build up; just like in real life, the tsunami wastes no time laying waste to this unsuspecting Hawaii city. The randomness of it all makes the whole scene even more powerful – life is very fragile, you see.

From there the movie progresses like a trident in three different, parallel streams. Matt Damon’s story about being a psychic and insisting it’s more of a curse than a gift is really captivating. And he makes a damn good case for why it’s more of a curse, too. I mean, the guy is coaxed into ‘reading’ a girl he likes and finds out inadvertently that her dead father molested her as a child. And then she just never comes back to see him. That’s pretty harsh, and probably not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of his life. It’s just maddening how little we’re actually given about this character, and how much what we are given affects us. It’s really stunning. They could have made a whole movie about him, but they still had other stories to tell, too.

The second one is about a woman played by Cecile De France, who is attractive in an offbeat, odd kind of way, and a great actor at that. She plays a French businesswoman on holiday in Hawaii when the tsunami from the opening hit. She and her co-worker, who she is having an affair with, go home and try to continue their regular lives – note here that he later ditches her for another girl; having an affair does one very little good in the end as the cheater will just do the same thing to you. De France, after a strange near death experience, simply can’t focus on mundane worldly business anymore, and she is given some time off to get her act together. She starts writing a book and it ends up coming out very differently from what she expected…

The third story belongs to a little boy played by Frankie and George McLaren – they’re twins, and alternate playing each character, I guess. But the one the story is about is Marcus, who lives with his brother Jason and their deadbeat drunk mother, who, in a refreshing turn of events, actually really loves them and cares about them, and it’s mutual. The boys view their mother’s addiction as something to overcome, and the way they help her evade the investigators who think she’s unfit as a parent is just golden. I wish they had given her more screen time, but then again, like the rest of this movie, it’s not really that necessary. And plus, she serves as a device to let him leave the house and do what he pleases more often. Which makes up the core of his story as he needs to do that quite a bit.

He travels around to different psychics trying to find a way to talk to his brother and get closure. Some of them are pretty funny, but of course it’s building up to the obvious payoff of meeting Matt Damon’s character, who tries to escape his brother’s pushy ways by going to England to visit Charles Dickens’ house…it makes much more sense when you watch the movie, trust me. He can’t escape his demons anywhere he goes, mostly thanks to the internet.

One of the other great scenes comes when Marcus is trying to get on a train and his hat is knocked off his head, causing him to miss it. But then the train blows up anyway so I guess he didn’t miss much…this really becomes resonant once Marcus and Matt Damon meet up.

Really, this is a movie about dealing with death, plain and simple. People do it in different ways. While sadly people in the real world can’t get closure as easy as they could by simply coaxing Matt Damon into reading their palms and getting messages from them, the film still shows very realistic portrayals of people who just don’t know what else to do. And it goes both ways, as Damon’s character is human, too, and being a bridge between the living and the dead is tough, and taxing. He has emotions too, and his curse compromises any deeper relationships inevitably. Nobody gets off scot free.

I think the point is really driven home by De France, who has the smallest of the three main roles but also the most pivotal point of the film – as she is the only one who has seen the Hereafter, nameless in the film itself, and come back alive. It’s depicted in a blinding white cacophony of shaking images, with shadowy figures stumbling drearily around in a brief flash. This glimpse of what lies beyond is chilling and provocative – what else is there that the movie hasn’t shown us? It’s downright brilliant. By showing us very little Eastwood has sparked the imagination and crafted something truly inventive, intriguing.

Hereafter is just an awesome, breathtaking journey, and Eastwood’s finest directorial venture that I’ve seen to date. There’s just something so good about this movie, like a plate of hot chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon after school. Hereafter is enthralling and sophisticated, with a maturity to its cinematography and scriptwriting that is commendable – it is nothing but a pure joy to behold. I don’t know what the movie of 2010 is going to be yet, but I can tell you that Hereafter is a definite contender and a fine, fine piece of filmmaking at any cost. Seminal.