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NYFF 2010. Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter"

"Clint Eastwood crafts a Babel all his own with Hereafter, a trifurcated tale of death, grief, and the great beyond that finds the director succumbing to eye-rolling corniness," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Screenwriter Peter Morgan's original story is peppered with offhand references to contemporary concerns (the global economic crisis, European immigration strife, real-life terror attacks), yet unlike in The Queen or Frost/Nixon, his prime focus here is less political than supernatural."

So far in this roundup, David Ansen, writing for Newsweek again, is the film's only defender, though he, too, has his reservations: "Clint Eastwood flirted with the supernatural in his allegorical Western Pale Rider, but nothing in his career prepares us for his haunting and haunted Hereafter, a bold, strange, problematic investigation into the nature of the afterlife. At 80, he continues to throw us curves, abandoning the safety of genre for an unconventionally structured story about mortality, loneliness, and the relationship between the living and the dead.... Morgan's plot mechanics — which grind all too noisily in the London section of the story, and serve up a tidy finale that seems oddly beside the point — are not the film's real strength. What keeps us rapt are the mysterious and provocative questions Hereafter raises, questions that Eastwood and Morgan know can't be definitively answered."

"As George Lonegan, Matt Damon does his best to avoid making his loner, ex-psychic character a cliché, occasionally supplying some funny line-readings and bursts of charm," writes Peter Gutierrez for Twitch. "Damon, though, is off-screen for long stretches as we follow near-death-experiencer/news anchor/author Cécile De France — playing, as in High Tension, a character named Marie — as she tries to... do what exactly? Make sense of her brush with death and plot her next career move?... Finally, there's a third storyline involving a young London boy who wants to connect with the dead for personal reasons. Almost every scene in this strand telegraphs forthcoming events or exhorts us to get out our handkerchiefs, or both." All in all, Hereafter is "sub-Paul Haggis triteness filtered through a sub-sub-Iñárritu 'we're-all-connected' sensibility. It's as though Morgan has seen Crash and Amores Perros (there's even a character-on-a-billboard motif) far, far too many times... and Eastwood has seen them not at all."

"Hereafter, is so utterly preposterous and condescending that I actually longed to revisit The Eiger Sanction," writes Ed Champion. "At least that disastrous film had some soul in the unlikely George Kennedy.... [C]onsider one side character at a resort who offers the line, 'As a scientist and atheist, my mind was closed to this,' and who then states that the evidence is 'irrefutable.' It's almost as if this script was designed to recruit wild-eyed naifs. What the fuck, Clint?"

 



Henry Stuart for the L: "This is Oscarbaiting at its worst: moviemaking without attention to detail, just with big melodramatic strokes, manipulative plotting and side-splitting dialogue."

"Eastwood's latest is an unintentionally funny misfire, the first of his directorial efforts to make him feel culturally out of touch," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "The festival's infuriating closing-night selection, Hereafter is for predisposed superfans only; you know who you are."

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Updates, 10/11: "Hereafter occupies some muzzy twilight zone, too woo-woo sentimental to be real, too limp to make for even a halfway decent ghost story," writes New York's David Edelstein.

It "begins with a magnificent re-creation of the 2004 tsunami as it hits an unnamed resort town in Southeast Asia," notes David Denby in the New Yorker. "The sequence was brought off with a combination of actual ocean waves, watery turmoil in a film-studio tank, and digital enhancement, and it entirely overwhelms the rather pallid movie that follows."

"You stare at actors' faces, and see pixels," writes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "Film usually reveals itself to audiences with splices and scratches, while Eastwood has shown how DV printing and projection can look pristine. Both Gran Torino and Invictus were handsome videos, in both cases because he used a more medium-friendly darker color palette, with lots of greens and browns (no overexposure), and because he used actors and situations (Clint scowling, Morgan considering) that lacked vibrant, dynamic motion, meaning technicians didn't have to worry much about keeping the image in focus. When the action did kick up, like in Invictus's rugby games, the running camera and recurring blurs added to the thrill by making viewers feel like they were chasing the scene." As for Hereafter, though, "the technology he's using doesn't serve the narrative's ambitions. This is a film about people connecting, and it's hard to convey that when actors blob out of view."

The New Yorker's Richard Brody speaks up for the defense: "What Eastwood does is to leach religion of its fire and brimstone — to empty religion of its moralistic dogmatism in favor of practical, humanistic ethics that take power from the self-appointed agents of ostensibly higher law and confer it upon those whom intuition or experience have rendered both sensitive and communicative.... In Hereafter, the director suggests that, in an age in which religion is instrumentalized, politicized, and weaponized by demagogues of every stripe, the metaphysical and ethical essence of religion can best be filtered into — and can best reinforce — a modern democratic society by means of a little old-time, low-key, personalized and private-practice spiritualism."

Updates, 10/12: "While there's something admirable about an 80-year-old filmmaker working outside his comfort zone, his near-complete unsuitability for the project means he's working outside of ours, too," writes Leo Goldsmith at Reverse Shot.

"What happens after we die?" asks Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline. "Do we just dissolve into dust and that's the end of it? Or do we enter a corridor in which blurry figures murmur unintelligibly as they bump into one another? From the looks of Hereafter, both Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan are banking on the latter; it's about as much of an explanation as they can offer in this dorky, self-serious little picture."

Jonathan Poritsky: "It is, to say the least, a snooze."

Updates, 10/13: "Hereafter is not just a stretch for Eastwood, it's a contortion," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. "The irrationality of the premise is exceeded only by the strategic irrationalities of the plot."

"Contrary to some advance reports," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L, "the way the stories converge in Peter Morgan's screenplay is not the movie's reason for being. Rather, the most compelling aspect of Eastwood's film is the hunger of characters to reach departed loved ones — not to know what the afterlife is like (which Eastwood plays upon, rolling the Hereafter title over the opening shot of a beach resort), but to satisfy the insatiable desire to connect."

Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York: "It's his first film to turn his virtues into weaknesses — an undercooked slice of paranormal mumbo jumbo with the genes of an M Night Shyamalan chin-scratcher but the execution of a diffident nonbeliever. What was Clint thinking?"

 

Updates, 10/15: "[O]ne of Mr Eastwood's great and undersung strengths as a director is his ability to wade into swamps of sentimental hokum and come out perfectly dry," argues AO Scott in the New York Times, where Charles McGrath interviews Eastwood. "Directed by anyone else, The Bridges of Madison County would most likely have been as unbearable as the book on which it was based. Million Dollar Baby, though derived from much better source material, walked through a minefield of clichés and emerged as a masterpiece. Hereafter does not land with the clean, devastating force of either of those movies. Instead, it is quiet, gorgeous and contemplative."

"Morgan's screenplays for Frost/Nixon and The Queen were clever to the point of being glib, but the hotshot screenwriter's facility for witty dialogue abandons him here," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Hereafter isn't just unfunny; it's positively humorless. In sharp contrast to the hyperbolic melodrama of Crash, Hereafter is hushed and understated to an almost perverse degree; it's so sleepy it borders on narcoleptic. Eastwood develops so little momentum that when the film's three discreet strands intersect climactically, it feels more arbitrary than revelatory. Just because a film takes place entirely in the long shadow of death doesn't mean it has to be this relentlessly dour."

On the other hand yet again, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "Morgan's script turns out to be a fine match for Eastwood's fluid, unassuming directing style. His direct, unadorned approach pares everything down to its essence, the better to express the core of the narrative in the most direct and effective way possible. This is quiet but potent filmmaking that believes nothing is more important than the story it has to tell."

Update, 10/18: For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "as Clint has grown older and backed away from acting in his own films (he's appeared in only two of his last eight directorial projects), the movies themselves have lost personality and vigor. Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino are pictures that have many fans and many haters, but both possess an intensity and specificity of vision you just don't see in handsome, dull, big-budget vehicles like Changeling or Invictus. I admire late-career Eastwood in theory — he appears to be modeling himself on the versatile Hollywood craftsmen of his youth, like Howard Hawks or William Wyler — a lot more than I enjoy it in practice. That formula also applies to his new Hereafter, a movie that opens with a sensational bang and then proceeds to pursue the Big Questions about life and death in lovely, lugubrious and increasingly off-putting fashion, until all its drama has been frittered away in a dreamy, drifty haze."

Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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