Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Move Along, There's No Oscar to See Here

Eastwood. It's a name synonymous with hard work, dedication and strength, both without and within. For nearly sixty years, Clint Eastwood has molded himself into one of the more celebrated and acclaimed performers of his or any time. His acting roles are iconic. Since winning his first Academy Awards for Unforgiven in 1992, he's become something of an Oscar darling, with his films garnering both critical and commercial success. Million Dollar Baby might be one day considered one of Hollywood's finest films ever. People still say he was snubbed for Gran Torino in 2008. In the past two decades he's simply become one of Hollywood's most important people, and even that isn't a stretch from where he had been before that. When he makes a movie, people see it.

You know he's unhappy because he can't sleep
So when I first saw the trailer for Hereafter, I was hooked. Matt Damon playing a man with a psychic connection to the afterlife who wants nothing to do with his mysterious power, as well as a narrative on our fear and beliefs concerning death, was a very interesting concept. Infinitely unique and anchored by Damon, the film looked sure to be one of the season's obvious award-winners. So when my friend Shannon invited me along to see this film opening weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to catch the film early and see one of my more anticipated films this season.

I see dead people
As I already mentioned, Damon plays former psychic George Lonegan. George, who somehow can communicate with souls in the afterlife, gave up his trade long ago when he decided that living a life surrounded by death simply wasn't for him. He's content working as a factory worker for much less pay than he'd made before, and considers his "gift" a curse, avoiding his brother's (Jay Mohr) attempts to get him back into the business. But George isn't the only main character in this film, as it is actually split into three concurrent storylines, the second of which involves a young British boy named Marcus (Frankie McLaren) who must cope with the tragic death of his twin brother Jason (George McLaren) and his mother's addiction to alcohol and heroin. Finally, French journalist Marie Lelay (Cecile de France) survives a tsunami while in Thailand and "dies" briefly, before being resurrected by rescuers. She feels that she made a connection to the afterlife, however, and wants to write a book about her experience, wondering what happens after we leave our mortal coils.

Psychics: Untold online dangers for kids
I mention that the film is in fact three stories happening simultaneously, though you know that with movies like this, the three characters will eventually meet somewhere towards the end of the story. However, before we reach that point, we sit through all this story in which each story has little to do with the other stories besides death being the contributing plotline. The film also features a very clockwork way of telling the story, where we take X amount of time to learn about Marie, then an equal time focusing on Jason before turning to George, then repeated ad infinitum. You start to notice this about halfway through, and that's when you start taking bets to see if the director will change tack and switch it around (he doesn't). Eastwood, while certainly talented, has never been a terribly original director, with his talents based on those before and around him. He makes great films, he just happens to make them in the same way everybody does.

Aww, a happy moment. Too bad they're French
Matt Damon retains the aura of greatness he's acquired in recent years, putting together a magnificent performance in the process. When George does his seance "thing", it's one hundred percent believable, and even when he's not, his character melds into the world trying to better himself, to be a better person than he believes his talent allows him to be. In fact, scenes between he and an attempted romance in Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) are some of the best scenes in the film. In respect to fairness, however, the biggest journey is actually covered by de France's character. Marie is haunted by her near-death experience but the journalist in her drives her to seek out and research the idea of an afterlife that sees her going against ideas she's carried her whole life with. Death is a taboo topic, she learns, but never stops her journey to spread what she learns. Though de France is a talented actress (and thankfully, most of her dialogue is in her native French with subtitles), she would have to be as domineering of the screen as Damon to keep our attention for long, and sadly, while she has the best story of the three, she simply doesn't have Damon's chops. Neither of the McLaren twins are particularly good actors, but since neither are trained performers this can be mostly overlooked and Eastwood definitely picked the more talented twin to play Marcus. Grieving for his brother and suffering in a foster home while his mother is in rehab, Marcus is incredibly lost and unable to move on with his life, trying any which way to reconnect with Jason. Though the least interesting of the three storylines, it does have some good moments, including one in which divine intervention seems to protect Marcus from being on the Underground rail when a bomb detonates on the train he failed to get on, saving his life. Good secondary performances by Howard, Richard Kind, Lyndsey Marshall and Thierry Neuvic, among a few others, round out a series of solid acting performances helmed solely and rightfully by Damon.

Why yes, I am @#^$ing Matt Damon
The story does vary the characters' unique interactions with the concept of death well, but it's still a concept that only goes so far. Besides the fact that you know by the end that the main characters will be meeting and interacting with one another, the film introduces many ideas that it never resolves. Indeed, for a film questioning life after death, it gives the barest of glimpses into the actual concept, instead wrapping a small version of it around Damon's visions and Marie's experience. Some of the more paranormal bits, though few, are a little overdone, and the ending is a mess, with no real conclusion, or at least not a satisfying one.

Okay, awkwaaard...
Clint Eastwood won't be snubbed at this year's award shows. Hereafter simply isn't a film good enough on it's own merits, let alone on the standards set by Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven or even Changeling. Damon's award-worthy performance aside, it's a mediocre movie at best, taking an interesting idea and handicapping it by telling it with a story not quite worth the paper it's written on. Of his latest films, this one is by far the weakest (worse even than Letters from Iwo Jima), and is simply not Clint at his best. It's a shame to spoil a movie with so much potential. But hey, we can't all be lucky, punk.

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