October 16, 2010

MOVIES: Hereafter (Clint Eastwood, 2010)

To his credit, Clint Eastwood attempts in Hereafter to do several things he's never tried before as a director; unfortunately, he doesn't do any of them very well. The big effects scene that opens the movie looks distinctly low-budget, and the Babel-style bringing together of mulitple storylines is handled in particularly clumsy fashion.

Worst of all, Eastwood attempts (briefly) to give us a glimpse of the afterlife. There are a lot of ways for a director to do that, but all of them call for a visual poetry that Eastwood's prosaic style simply can't provide.

The actors do what they can, but Peter Morgan's script is unusually heavy-handed, wrapping them all in a lead blanket of somber earnestness. Cecile de France is pretty, but an emotional blank as a French journalist; retired psychic Matt Damon has the wounded sincerity cranked up to full blast; George and Frankie McLaren, as London twins struck by tragedy, are the worst sort of child actors, coasting on simpering cuteness. The best impressions are made by supporting players -- Steven Schirippa as a cheerful cooking instructor, Jenifer Lewis as a frantic grieving mother.

As has become his habit, Eastwood scores the movie himself, and you will grow very tired of the plinking little piano theme that accompanies the movie's sadder moments (of which there are a lot).

You don't expect a movie about how we cope with death to be full of laughs, but there's not so much as a smile to break the unrelenting gloom. (Bryce Dallas Howard tries to bring some comic energy to her role as Damon's romantic interest; it doesn't work at all, but at least she's trying.) Hereafter is a movie desperately in need of a sense of humor to break through its hermetic seal of righteous sincerity.

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