Friday, October 22, 2010

In 'Hereafter,' the Dead Have Their Say

Matt Damon and Richard Kind, above, in "Hereafter." Below, Frankie/George McLaren are engaging as twins.Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

I was very excited about seeing “Hereafter,” not because of the subject matter – communicating with the dead – but because Clint Eastwood is the director. My regard for the man dates to “Rawhide” reruns.

However, Yours Truly left the film, which closed the 48 New York Film Festival, disappointed. It opens nationwide today. What is responsible for this disappointment is not so much CE's direction as Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan’s script. His story – or to be precise two of them – fail to engage. “Hereafter” starts out promisingly enough. A Paris news anchor and her news director boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic) are on vacation in Indonesia before a tsunami hits. Incidentally, the scene of the storm is nothing short of incredible and spectacular.

From Indonesia, the action switches to England and the lives of two twin boys, then on to San Francisco – or is it vice-versa – to the simple life of the factory work played by Matt Damon. As I’ve already alluded, “Hereafter”unfolds in three overlapping stories before they merge.

Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) returns to the anchor desk in Paris but is still haunted by her experience in Indonesia. She was caught up in the carnage and went over to the other side before she was brought back. She is deeply affected and fascinated by the experience and wishes to write about it, much to the dismay of her boyfriend and book publisher. We meet George (MD) giving a reading to a widower (Richard Kind) as a favor to his brother. An accident left George with an unwelcome ability to hear from the dead through their living loved ones. All it takes is a touch, and he can quote chapter and verse. In London, adorable twin boys (Frankie/George McLaren) live contentedly enough with their unfit and alcoholic, but loving mother until one of them is killed in a freak accident.

In a brief couple of scenes, such as a visit to a photographer and their bedtime routine, one instantly cottons to the twins. We know tragedy is coming and want to get to know them as well as possible before it strikes. We are invested in their lives. If only PM’s efforts had been as engaging in the other two stories, “Hereafter” would be a film that hums along nicely instead of dragging its feet for more than two hours before it comes to an unsatisfying end.

It is difficult to explain just why it is not possible to care for Marie. She is competent, principled, pleasant and attractive. Yet, the more we see of her life, the less we want to see of her life. The anguish she feels after the accident is not palpable enough, estranging the audience and making it difficult for it to make the connection that leads to compassion. Likewise, as decent as George is, who gives a hill of beans about his humdrum life? And if the cooking class is supposed to touch hearts, it misses the mark. These scenes are some of the least engaging parts of the film. I am suspicious that the cooking class is the clunky device used to introduce Melanie played by Bryce Dallas Howard – in a brief, wasted role – as a failed love match for George. She purses her lips, bats her long lashes and looks in awe with those beautiful eyes. Then, she is gone. Good riddance. Her appearance does nothing to move along the narrative. If the point is to show, as George said, that his gift makes normal relationships impossible, we could have taken him at his word. Here is a case where telling is better than showing.

In any case, events conspire in a credible and clever enough way to bring the three main characters together in central London for the London Book Fair. Marcus hounds George until he gives him a reading, and on the downlow George hounds news anchor-turned-author Marie – the main title of her book is “Hereafter” – and she inexplicably and incredibly becomes his girl.

There are several charming moments in the “Hereafter,” mainly in the twins’ thread. Absolutely hilarious are the scenes in which the BS meter of the taciturn Marcus figuratively flail as he suffers through one charlatan after another in his quest to reach out to his dead brother, Jason (George McLaren). Marcus is neither wisecracking or precocious – that would have made him insufferable. Similarly, the scenes with Marcus and George are tender and funny. George's communication powers, which after a couple of instances become more special effects than special gifts, are plausible here.

CE gets uniformly strong performances from the players. For obvious reasons most of the “Hereafter” promotional posters show MD and CDeF. They should, however, also feature the twins, for they steal the film and save it from being uniformly uninteresting.

"Hereafter" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.

1 comment :

  1. i very2 like this movie,.,. the twin look like my friend,.,. them are twin too,.,. i think they are them in this movie,.,. because they are artists too,.,. i hope they are them,.,.


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