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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Hereafter (2010)

One hardly knows what to expect from a Clint Eastwood-directed film.  The 81-year old director seems to have no trouble keeping up his incredible pace of roughly one new movie per year -- but unlike his earlier output of westerns and thrillers, he now seems eager to try his hand on a surprising variety of subjects.  Since his geriatric comedy "Space Cowboys" in 2000, he has given us the impressive Pacific war diptych of "Flags of our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima", a Nelson Mandela biopic "Invictus", and now this meditation on mortality -- possibly not a surprising subject for a man of his years.  It has, however, proved to be something of a disappointment to his faithful fans, being a leisurely and somewhat flawed examination of the afterlife,  presented with a minimum of mysticism and a maximum of matter-of-factness.

The film reunites Eastwood with one of his previous film's leads, the ever-so-busy Matt Damon, who plays blue-collar worker George in San Francisco, running away from his previous notoriety and troubling career as a pyschic able to communicate with the past and the deceased.  Meanwhile in Paris, we have hotshot television  journalist Marie, Cecile De France, becoming increasingly troubled by her miraculous escape from death during a Far Eastern tsunami while on holiday with her lover/producer, where she experienced visions of near-death.  While in London we have the sad tale of devoted young twins Marcus and Jason, trying to avoid being taken into care as they scheme to protect their beloved drug-addicted mother.  When Jason -- the more voluble of the two -- is killed by a car trying to escape from a street gang after his mobile phone, Magnus is placed with foster parents.

Meanwhile back in San Francisco George is made redundant and is pressured by his brother, Jay Mohr, to resume his lucrative career as a psychic.  In Paris, Marie is encouraged to take leave from her stressful job to write a book -- purportedly on Mitterand but ultimately on her fascination with life after death.  And in London poor little Magnus wants to reconnect with his dead brother, but finds no help from the psychic charletons that abound.  About the only thing that keeps this film moving is wondering how in the world the three strands of the tale will ever merge, and Eastwood certainly takes his time doing this -- which is where he lost so many of his viewers who found the procedings tedious.  For example, we follow George's attendance at a evening-school cookery class where a potential romance with fellow student Bryce Dallas Howard becomes something of a McGuffin after she pesters him for a psychic reading and he reveals parts of her past which she would prefer to forget. Marie becomes totally absorbed in her research, driving off to Switzerland to interview Marthe Keller's clinician, and ultimately finds that her publishers are not the least bit interested in the book that she has produced and that her boyfriend has found a new squeeze in the meantime.  And Magnus who keeps running away from his foster home, finds himself narrowly escaping a bombing on the London Underground when Jason's hat which he has taken to wearing blows off on the crowded platform and in his need to retrieve it just misses getting on the fatal carriage.

So how does this all pull together after some 100 minutes of exposition?  George escapes from his greedy brother's scheme and uses his redundancy money to visit London, it previously having been established that he is a big Charles Dickens fan.  Claire finds an English publisher for her manuscript and goes to London to promote the volume at a major book fair, which George is also visiting to hear Derek Jacobi read Dickens.  And poor old Magnus is dragged to the same venue by his foster parents to see one of their previous foster children who is now a successful author; there he recognizes George from the photo on his defunct website and follows him back to his hotel, standing outside in the cold until George takes pity on him, touches his hand, and gives him the will to carry on living without Jason.  The grateful child uses his computer skills to find out where Claire is staying in London, having observed that George was very taken with her at the fair, and sets up the final action for a boy-gets-girl happy ending -- all something of a dramatic contrivance from the writer of the original screenplay, Peter Morgan.

While it is largely an intelligent movie, which held my interest despite its longeurs, on balance it seems like something of a misfire from Eastwood, who also composed the film's not so special music. He makes interesting use of the locations in the three cities, particularly in London, although he slightly ruined the reality for us natives by fabricating a non-existent entrance to the tube station at Charing Cross -- which incidentally was not one of the stations hit by terrorist explosions.  After some impressive early scenes of the devastating tsunami (played out in French with subtitles!), the action slows down to a leisurely stroll into the problems of our three geographically separate protagonists and I can understand why only the more forgiving viewer would stick with the slow plod toward the movie's denouement.
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