Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hereafter (2010) – Review

Hereafter is aesthetically a well made film – it looks great, has fine performances – but it just does not work structurally, and the music does not fit. Director Clint Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan craft the story with an agenda to look at what happens when we die. And while the film does not explicitly go into the details, nor does it prescribe to a particular ideology (though, presumably one that does have some sort of Heaven-like afterlife), it does pursue the message of the comfort in faith, but through a gentle (anti-horror film) conception of ghosts and what awaits us. The story focuses on two characters: George Lonegan who turns his back on faith and Marie LeLay who has a life changing experience and is consumed by the fulfillment of and need to express what she has experienced. The structure of the film draws them together through chance encounters and events out of their control (destiny if you will). There is also a third main character (sort of) named Marcus, whose purpose is to drive the other two characters together – while facing tragedy (and too much screen time for his function) in the process. The issue with the narrative is that the character of Marie is not compelling. Her transformation is sort of force fed to the audience (whether you believe in a god and/or afterlife or not). While we accept there is an afterlife, as clearly in the world of the film there is, her journey still comes off as heavy-handed and agenda reinforced. The narrative would have been much more successful had it developed more organically and if she was a more compelling character. The viewer is not really given a true transformation in her character. George on the other hand is a very compelling character with a much more interesting journey and story, thus once the film leaves him and focuses on Marie or Marcus the audience is immediately waiting for it to return to George. Thus, a large portion of the film is un-engaging. The concept of loved ones looking out for us from beyond or waiting for us or wishing to deliver us a message of reconciliation is comforting and that is the angle that Morgan and Eastwood approached the film, but it is overly sappy. There are no real stakes. Sure, there is death, tragedy, pain and so on in the film but it is all positively transformative for the main characters. It may have been interesting to see a principal character not be able to deal and not come through better off. Marcus loses his brother, but there is the sense that the experience has caused him to take a positive step forward in his life and personal development (for example). Eastwood seems to be saying that embracing faith (and I am assuming of a Christian nature as that is what the film’s mythology seems to be based in) is the key to finding fulfillment in our lives, which is fine (and for many it may be true) – the issue though is that it does not feel genuine. The film is crafted and shaped too much to make non-believes ignorant and even villainous (which seems in context to be a bit close-minded). Another large issue with the film is that the score by Eastwood does not work at all with the tone of the visuals and narrative. It is awkward and takes the audience right out of the film. Hereafter has some good stuff in it, but overall the narrative is just not captivatingly structured.


Technical achievements: Eastwood and Morgan generally do good work. Here, however, their message seems to get in the way of an organically flowing narrative. Tom Stern’s cinematography is (as usual) good, but not as visually striking or interesting as some of his past work with Eastwood (films like Changeling, Letter from Iwo Jima and Million Dollar Baby). James J. Murakami’s production design is also not as interesting as his past work, but did match the tone of the film. As discussed above, Eastwood’s score was the weakest technical part of the film. It just did not fit what the viewer was seeing and feeling. The cast does a good job overall.  Matt Damon is the best part of the film. As usual, he delivers a great performance exhibiting inner strength and yet vulnerability. Cecile De France is good too, but her performance is hindered a bit by the fact that her character does not warrant the screen time she is given. George and Frankie McLaren are both quite good in the film, and there is splendid supporting bit parts from Richard Kind, Jay Mohr, Steve Schirripa (who is great in his small role), and Jenifer Lewis, each performance serving its purpose well. However, (my favorite supporting performance, and her scenes with Damon are the highlight, I think, of the film) Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent and her short appearance in the film brightens it up and makes it lively and interesting.

Hereafter has an interesting message and good performances; nevertheless is not a satisfying film experience, the narrative lacking a strong structure and focus. 6/10

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