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Hereafter

tn_hereafterMy man Clint’s new directorial work HEREAFTER hit the home video this week, and it’s some creepy timing. The movie opens with vacationing TV reporter Cecile de France (from HIGH TENSION and MESRINE but once again I didn’t recognize her) leaving a Thai beach hotel one beautiful morning to shop for souvenirs in an open air market. Something about the filmatism here reminds me of JAWS, it’s just that heightened sense of sight and sound, you can hear voices and tones from every direction and almost feel the warm breeze on your neck. It’s so beautiful and peaceful but you know something horrifying is rumbling in the distance.

mp_hereafterYep, it’s a tsunami, and her ordeal is depicted with terrifying realism. You might remember the movie was nominated for a visual effects Oscar. This movie isn’t for everybody, but the opening will knock everybody on their ass. It’s not going for thrills and what not, just a Force of Nature, an Act of God, something powerful that she has no choice but to be swept up in.

She washes up and some people try to help her, but her heart has stopped. And she has one of those experiences you hear about, where she sees the light, and she sees silhouettes of the departed (not the movie). It’s Hereaftervision. She survives, but she remembers what she saw, and it completely changes her life.

There are no more disaster sequences after that. Or car chases or parkour or even exorcisms. I think I read this described as Clint’s “supernatural thriller,” but that’s a terrible description. It’s barely about the supernatural and not at all about thrills. The movie jumps between three stories: de France’s character dealing with life now that she thinks she had a glimpse of the beyond (not the movie); Matt Damon as a guy who made alot of money helping people communicate with their deceased loved ones but was so haunted by it he quit to work at the C&H Pure Cane Sugar factory; a shy British boy stuck dealing with the death of his twin brother while being taken away from his alcoholic/junkie mom.

I guess I like this more than most people. I like its deliberate pace (in other words, you’ll probly think it’s too fuckin slow) and its serious tone (not alot of laughs in this sucker). Actually, this picture here gives a pretty good description of what the movie is like:

still_hereafter

Yep. They’re in the kitchen. They’re talking at regular volume. This goes on for some time.

It’s a sad movie. You want the ol’ poignancy, Clint’s got it. De France was this big time reporter and author, she got to go on a nice vacation, she had a boyfriend that she seemed to like, things were good, but this experience will not leave her head and she can’t deal with her old life anymore. She can’t do her job so they give her a book deal but she can’t even write the book her publishers agreed to, she turns in something about the afterlife. It’s like if I was supposed to write a book about Dolph Lundgren and I turned in one about how to build a time machine. But obviously if I was gonna do that I would just build the time machine and go back and tell them it was gonna be a time machine book so they wouldn’t be disappointed not to get the Dolph one. But this character does not have that luxury.

Then there’s Damon, who plays a little frumpier than usual in this one, and with his hair starting to gray. Like Jonah Hex he almost died and afterwards seemed to have this ability to communicate with the dead. He could bump into you and have a DEAD ZONE moment, he can apparently see your loved ones and dictate their messages to you. But he gave that up a long time ago and only does it now under pressure. This is not a real new idea but the approach is unusual: he doesn’t get drawn into some big case or something. He just doesn’t like to do it, but his brother’s always sort of suckering into doing it for friends and stuff, and it bums him out.

He says it’s not a gift, it’s a curse. In the same way that having a truck is, because then everybody calls you when they need help moving. But of course it’s worse, in my opinion, than helping people move. Probly takes up less of your afternoon, but nobody wants to deal with that intense of emotion on a daily basis. Helping people with their grieving.

Anyway, you see what trouble it is when he meets Bryce Dallas Howard in a cooking class and gets a date with her. He tries to avoid the subject, but eventually you gotta deal with the ghostly powers when you’re in a relationship. Poor guy.

Then the twin, that kid gets it the worst. As a team those twins were so capable, they were able to cover for their fucked up mom so they wouldn’t get taken away from her. But his brother was kind of the mastermind and the talker. Now he’s alone and doesn’t know how to express the pain he’s feeling. All he has is his dead brother’s hat, and the damn teacher makes him take it off in class. In the background there’s another student wearing not a burqa but whatever the headress is that doesn’t cover the face. Everybody knows that has meaning to her, so she gets to wear it, but nobody knows what this hat means to him.

There’s alot of themes in here I noticed. One of them is the the idea of randomness and coincidence and one thing leading to another. De France realizes that her publisher is mad at her because she wrote this book because she couldn’t deal with the questions she had from the near-death experience she had because she got swept up by a wave because she went outside because her boyfriend didn’t buy gifts for his kids. What she doesn’t realize is that a similar chain of events will move her from France and Damon from America both to London, where their lives will intersect in a good way.

When you’re always worrying about your death, your fate, you get stuck wondering what it all means, why it all happens. If only you could talk to the loved ones you’ve lost, maybe you could cap it off right, tell them what you should’ve, find out from them what you need to. But it ain’t gonna happen, not in this movie. Even when the spiritual or supernatural gets involved, the events in our lives aren’t given a convenient level of meaning. At one point (SPOILER) it seems like the dead twin blew his brother’s hat off to stop him from getting on a subway that he would’ve died on. Turns out, when Damon apparently communicates with him, that he wasn’t trying to save his brother’s life or anything, he just didn’t want him wearing his hat. Even ghosts don’t know what the fuck to make of all this. Shit happens.

It starts with a tidal wave, it ends with a question mark. That’s how you know Clint is the Motherfuckin Man, when he has the resources and the balls to make a slow-paced, intimate character drama about death and loss and facing one’s mortality, but to open it with an incredibly realistic and intense disaster sequence. I mean he could’ve had the poor lady survive a car crash or a heart attack, he didn’t need to get epic on us, but that was what he wanted. And those tools happened to be available to him.

In fact it’s kind of a reverse disaster movie. A disaster movie shows us the stories of a bunch of ordinary people from different walks of life during a seemingly mundane day, it pretends we give a shit about them when really we don’t, we’re just waiting to see them get tormented and in some cases killed by the big awesome disaster sequence, and during that the character’s lives will intersect and they’ll learn about themselves through surviving the destruction. HEREAFTER has the disaster at the beginning, only then does it tell us about the characters, and I actually do give a shit about them, and instead of finding their inner hero while deep in the shit they quietly search for closure on some shit that happened to them a while ago. It doesn’t build to a climax, it slows down to a stop.

Maybe it’s ’cause I never saw a Clint-directed movie on blu-ray before this, but to me it seemed slicker than his other movies, a little more vivid in its colors and bold in its camera moves and such. It’s all his usual collaborators, nobody new on the team except the script is by Peter Morgan (the guy that did THE QUEEN and FROST NIXON).

From looking at it I don’t think I would’ve known it was Clint. But its restraint, its confidence, its smarts, those are all his. The one dead giveaway is the music, once again composed by Clint. You know that sound. He’s got his simple, gentle tinkering throughout, and at the end it turns into some light jazz. ‘Cause Clint is telling this story so he’s gonna tell it the way Clint does.

Enjoy the jazz. Don’t worry about no ghosts. Nobody knows if there’s an afterlife, even people from beyond the grave. Just appreciate your life while you can.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 at 1:34 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Hereafter”

  1. I wanted more Bryce Dallas Howard. (spoiler)

  2. I worked on this one briefly, was one of the people evacuated from the tube/subway station in London. Despite the ‘Do not distract/approach/talk to/ photograph/breathe near’ warnings that made me figure that Gran Torino’s Kowalski was directing the film, I got to say a quick hello to THE MAN and he seemed a very relaxed, friendly chap. Also, he gets every shot in two takes. Clint don’t fuck around.

  3. shit happens indeed

    also, being dead and STILL not knowing what happens after you die? that’s pretty ironic eh?

  4. I was avoiding this because the previews made it look like Clint was contemplating his own mortality, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to be a part of that. Although, Vern makes the film sound a lot more interesting than the previews made it look. From the above description the film is a lot more existential and a lot less granola than it appeared in the trailers.

  5. But I love granola.

    I’m a bad person for not seeing this already.

  6. If you’re a bad person, Mouth, then I must be history’s greatest monster because, of Clint’s past decade of steady directorial work, I’ve only seen GRAN TORINO.

    You can start judging me now.

  7. Does Damon have grey hair? Is he that old? Am I getting old?!!

  8. I was wondering whether Damon has greying hair now or if that was the character. Either way, yes, you are getting old.

  9. He has some grey hair in THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. Then again, I’m only 26, and I’m starting to go grey.

  10. Crikey, Mr. M.  We all have our blind spots but. . . Now it’s like we don’t even know you.  

    I keep accidentally hearing little blurbs about Mr. Eastwood’s (We’re not comfortable calling each other by iconic monikers or first names.) shooting style, like Jimbolo’s comment about doing 2 takes max and a recent shitty AVClub write-up on the #1 BADASS scene in DIRTY HARRY, and it seems some people have come to an uncomfortable belief that our favorite gray badass is not striving for excellence as a filmatist.  

    This may upset a lot of us, especially since, to me at least, his work in the 21st century represents a welcome adult respite from a lot of garbagey, noisy movies that either try too hard or have no meaning.  An Eastwood director credit denotes automatic quality, and I can’t say that about many filmatists. In the military, we would call his shooting schedule an “optempo” and his reported optempo on set “efficient,” not “lazy.”  

    It’s strange that he’s not easily categorized as an auteur, since his filmatism lacks gimmicks, yet his work sticks out, in my opinion, as the expression of a strong singular voice.  More strange still is that, though I think all his 21st century movies have been either above average or excellent, none of them necessarily demand multiple viewings.  I don’t hold that against them, though.  Since nothing can replicate the experience of enjoying a good movie for the first time, we ought not punish a movie or director for not giving us more than 2 hours of excellent entertainment & engagement.  That’s my defense of a consistently good storyteller, that his/her work need not be revisited every few months or critically transformed into a cinematic representation of an entire generation by fans in order to be considered lasting & good.  

  11. I read that AV Club piece too Mouth, and I was a little shocked. If he really shot through a movie like Unforgiven at a breakneck pace and only a few takes per scene and still ended up with that masterpiece, then he’s clearly doing something right. Maybe if you have great material to work with, prepare adequately, and have a profound trust in the people you work with, you really can be assured of excellence without wasting time & film doing scenes over and over again. Clint’s the Man.

  12. I know. I feel terrible about it. But they all just looked like (shudder) dramas to me. I HATE dramas.

    In my defense, I was all prepared to watch MILLION DOLLAR BABY but then the ending got blown for me and I realized it wasn’t a prequel to my second or third favorite Alice Cooper album.

  13. I didn’t read that DIRTY HARRY piece. Why is Clint’s directorial style being blamed for a scene in a movie he didn’t direct?

  14. Mr. Eastwood’s style is so classical and restrained that I think his films live and die by their scripts more than almost anyone else making movies today. With the right script, he’ll knock it out of the park every time. With the wrong script, it ends up just being a classy ‘meh’ every time. I’m always extremely curious as to how he picks scripts (it sounds like he had this one written for him — is that always the case or does he grab spec scripts too?) since the choices seem so varied. Looking at his directoral output, I’m not sure I can identify any specific themes that run through his work, or anything at all particularly that would connect the narratives of his films. Any theories?

  15. It’s not just his directing; it’s his attitude & preference for shooting just 1-2 takes, supposedly even as an actor, that supposedly suggests a general professional laziness. I think the AVC guy, usually an excellent critic & writer, said he just couldn’t get it out of his head that Mr. Eastwood has a reputation for refusing to reshoot, even when the dialogue supposedly has a flat delivery.

    There might be an argument about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here, but I generally prefer not to dissect how movie performances happen. BADASS CINEMA happens because badasses are involved. And, obviously, I agree completely with Bryan.

  16. Mr Subtlety,

    I think you’re pretty much dead on. There is something of a recurring theme of deconstruction of Western/action movie archetypes and/or of the entire Clint Eastwood screen persona in movies like WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART, UNFORGIVEN, GRAN TORINO, maybe BLOOD WORK, etc. But for the most there doesn’t seem to be an overarching style to his career. He’s not a stylist or a formalist or an experimenter or anything like that, he’s mostly just a straight-up storyteller with no frills.

    So I agree completely, it always comes down to the screenplay. If he has a good story to tell, he tells it crisply and cleanly, with maximum emotional satisfaction, and he’s given us a few of the finest mainstream/classical style films of recent decades. Unfortunately, his taste in scripts seems spotty; though his films are rarely bad, you can’t count on Eastwood the same way you can with other directors of similar status. I tend to be particularly disappointed when he goes for more broadly drawn, emotionally manipulative stuff like MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, THE CHANGELING. All compelling films that I guess I enjoyed, but they have an off-putting emotional jackhammer quality to them that rubs me wrong. I kind of think his unobtrusive style goes better with scripts that don’t insist so much on telling you what to think.

  17. Exactly, Bryan. I did say that he GETS it in two takes, not that he just shrugs and sighs and wearily gives up after two takes (to clarify in case anything thinks I was criticising Eastwood). I think actually knowing what you want to get before starting filming makes a massive difference. Incidentally, Tony Scott = hundreds of takes for each shot.

  18. He’s always been known for shooting fast like that, something I think he said he learned from Don Siegel.

    This script actually wasn’t written for Eastwood, and at one point Spielberg (as producer) had the ending changed, but Eastwood went back to the earlier draft. GRAN TORINO also wasn’t written for him and he didn’t have it rewritten other than to move it to Michigan, which seems bizarre. Those two seem designed to be his last movies, so I’m glad he’s working on a J. Edgar Hoover movie now.

  19. I don’t think a commitment to completing a shot in only a couple of takes has in any way hurt the performances in his films. In fact, Eastwood’s ability to get the right performance out of an actor after a couple of tries might arguably help the overall film. Limiting the number of takes conceivably helps the performances seem more natural, looser. You don’t want an actor to see too rigid.

    I’m reminded of a comment Robert Duvall made about the acting in the films of Stanley Kubrick, a man known for going through endless numbers of takes and retakes. Duvall said that the acting in Kubrick’s films was some of the worst he had ever seen. Now, this is obviously a bit hyperbolic, but I at least agree that the actors in a Kubrick film often seem stiff and lifeless. There are exceptions (Dr. Strangelove), and sometimes the restrained nature of the performance is important for the film (2001), but I think Kubrick’s perfectionism prevented him from getting the best out of his actors.

  20. Bah. What does Boo Radley know about acting?

  21. Mr. Subtlety – I can’t find a link to it, but I read an interview with Peter Morgan about his process with this screenplay and he didn’t write it specifically for Clint. He wrote it first draft as a one off spec, and then somehow got it to Steven Spielberg, who gave him a bunch of Spielbergy notes to execute. But then when Spielberg read the rewrite he told Morgan that he (Spielberg) had killed the original spirit of the script or something. Probably asked him to swap out the guns for walkie talkies or whatever. Clint happened to overhear this conversation somehow (I think through the phone) and told Spielberg that it sounded like something he might be interested in. Morgan then sent Clint the original first draft and in typical Clint style he just went out and shot it as is. Again I’m kind of broken telephoning this story from memory but from what I know of Clint Eastwood his general method of picking scripts is not very fussy.

  22. Knox Harrington

    March 17th, 2011 at 5:05 am

    Have you guys ever worked on a film set? It’s what I do for a living. I’m on set almost every bloody day, and to be honest, most of it is bullshit. So much time and energy is wasted on petty crap that it’s kind of laughable. “Hurry up and wait”, if you know what I mean.

    Clint has found a way to not only speed up the process, but streamline the whole circus that is on-set filmmaking. A ton of my friends worked on Invictus, and the one thing they all say is that the crew loved him. You start at 7am or 8am and finish at 4pm. That’s almost unheard of. The only other guy who does that is Woody Allen. Your average day on set is often 16-18 hours, and like I said, most of that time is spent on unnecessary bullshit.

    It’s for that same reason that Kubrick hated big, 200 men crews. It slows down the actual filmmaking. Most of the time he’d stick to a primary group of 10 or less crew members and just get on with it (that’s how he managed to do so many takes in a day).

    Speaking of which, the number of takes a filmmaker usually shoots says very little about the final product. It can still be a good film whether you shoot 2 takes (like Eastwood)or 80 (like Kubrick often did). Each filmmaker has his own methods and reasons. If it works, it works.

    Oh, P.S. I heard that Eastwood started developing his “2 take” style after working with that kid on A Perfect World. Apparently the kid was only good the first few takes, so ol’ Clint had to adapt in order to get the best performance out of him. I don’t think he used the same method on Unforgiven, though.

    I do think Invictus could have benefitted from a few more takes. Freeman and Damon kinda let their accents slip every now and then. Oh well.

  23. But even if Kubrick shot 80 takes in a day, he took his bloody time to get finish his movies. Sydney Pollack said in an interview that he once worked all day for two weeks on Eyes Wide Shut just so that Kubrick could get a five second clip of him opening a door.

  24. it’s because Kubrick could use that Illuminati money to whatever he wanted

  25. “Speaking of which, the number of takes a filmmaker usually shoots says very little about the final product. It can still be a good film whether you shoot 2 takes (like Eastwood)or 80 (like Kubrick often did). Each filmmaker has his own methods and reasons. If it works, it works.”

    I’m not saying Kubrick wasn’t one of the greats. He was. But I am saying that I find a lot of the acting in his films stilted, and most people generally give him a pass on this because he mastered multiple genres of storytelling and because visually he was unmatched (I’ll endorse both claims). My theory, and there’s no way to definitively prove this, is that his dedication to going through many, many takes may have hindered the performances of his actors. There could very well be competing explanations. He might have difficulty working with actors, for example (although both explanations are hardly mutually exclusive). But I still maintain that, for whatever reason, Kubrick’s films have some wooden acting.

    Going back to Eastwood, I have always felt that his influences have been a combination of classic 40s and 50s no no nonsense filmmaking in the vein of Howard Hawks combined with the naturalism of some 1970s filmmakers who resisted drawing attention to the presence of the camera.

  26. Jareth Cutestory

    March 17th, 2011 at 9:04 am

    RBatty024: For the life of me, I can’t think of a single Eastwood movie where he ISN”T questioning his own mortality. Even the ones with the monkey.

  27. RBatty024 – you’re pretty much right, but I think A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket have good acting

    while we’re on the subject, one thing I love about Kubrick is just how different all his movies feel from one another, they all exist in their own world, that’s not to say that Kubrick didn’t have a style, but he also knew how to make every movie unique

  28. I’ve heard the thing about acting in Kubrick films before. Don’t agree. Is James Mason in Lolita stilted? Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory? Is anyone saying Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson were stilted? People bring up 2001, fine, but I think Keir Dullea freaking out and spitting chips would’ve been a bit odd since he spends most of the film talking to a computer. I guess HAL’s voice is quite monotone, but I suspect that was probably deliberate.

  29. Also take into account that most of the lead characters in Kubrick’s films find themselves in a rather desperate mental state.

    I think that’s why his methods with actors suited his films so well. The characters seem on-edge and exhausted because that’s most likely the effect Kubrick had on his actors. Kinda funny.

  30. In passing: I am pretty sure I haven’t watched a movie made by Clint (directing and/or starring) since Unforgiven. So I think I have Mr. Majestyk beat there.

    I’ve watched a few clips from Space Cowboys and Grand Tourino, kind of by accident, but I didn’t want to watch anymore. The closest I can come to an explanation is that I just feel like Unforgiven should have been his last film. (I am fully aware that this is an irrational thing, like being afraid of food on the floor; I don’t have a good explanation for it.)

  31. Great review Vern. I don’t agree about the film. I don’t care for it but your time travel example and truck curse are brilliant analogies. :)

  32. Yeah… boring film. Blah ending. I didn’t really have high hopes and even they were let down. I had to turn off GRAN TURISMO also, so i looks like I’m done with Clint films probably forever.

  33. However, is it just me or is there something about Bryce Dallas Howard’s nose that makes you think she’d be fantastic in bed?

  34. Yeah she would. I see a lot of pent up aggression in that beautiful face of hers.

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