Friday, October 15, 2010

Eastwood’s Hereafter

That bright light must be significant. Near death researchers argue that since so many accounts agree on the particulars, there must be something to them. Some even hint at a conspiracy of silence in Clint Eastwood’s latest film, but the jazz-supporting actor-director thankfully never veers too far into such X-Filish territory in Hereafter (trailer here), which opens today in New York before expanding nationally next week.

Conversing with the dead made psychic George Lonegan nearly unfit for life among the living. Much to the dismay of his slick operator brother, he chucked it all in, despite the serious money to be made, preferring a quiet blue collar life. Yet, just like Pacino’s Michael Corleone, he keeps getting pulled back into his former life. French television talking head Marie Lelay got a glimpse of what haunts Lonegan. Caught up in a Southeast Asian tsunami, she briefly crossed over and back. Slightly preoccupied with the experience, her career and romantic relationship suffer as a result. While in third story arc, young Marcus, an identical twin grieving his brother Jason, is desperately searching for a legitimate medium like Lonegan amidst all the charlatans of London’s New Age scene.

Eventually, these three twains will meet, but it takes an awfully long time to get there. Despite the supernatural themes, Eastwood strives for an elegiac tone throughout Hereafter, eschewing cheap chills. (However, it is truly horrifying when the action culminates at a publishing trade show.) Though a bit snoozy, the director’s string-heavy score sets the right mood. Indeed, Hereafter has a very Euro-art film sense of time and ambiance.

Arguably, Hereafter is one of those films whose whole is less than the sum of its parts. The opening tsunami sequences are reasonably intense and realistic. However, subsequent scenes of Lelay moping around taking bad career advice are paint-by-numbers stuff. Lonegan’s relationship with his brother is also rather standard issue, but his aborted flirtation with a fellow student in his adult ed cooking class is sharply written and really finely turned, by Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, respectively. However, the most reliable strand involves the two twins, quite impressively played by Frankie and George McLaren. Completely natural in every scene, they are remarkably assured young actors.

Sensitively lensed by cinematographer Tom Stern, Hereafter is certainly a classy package. The discrete payoff might also grow on mature viewers upon later reflection. However, the overall presentation is a bit too long and much too self-serious. A respectable film but nowhere nearly as engaging as Gran Torino, Hereafter seems unlikely to be a major player come awards season. Earning a modest recommendation, Hereafter opens today (10/15) in New York at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square 14, before spreading wider next Friday.