Monday 13 June 2011

Today's Review: Hereafter

Clint Eastwood has done well the last few years. Changeling, Gran Torino and Invictus were all excellent movies, and with his next venture coming out I was understandably quite excited, even if it was an ensemble movie about the afterlife.

But I guess I was wrong to open up my arms. I guess I was a bit wary upon first hearing about it, but I was still holding out hope for it to be a good movie. But it's just an alright movie. I guess you can't fault Eastwood too much for directing something with not such a great script, but I would have expected more from Peter Morgan too, who managed to make a movie about David Frost talking to Richard Nixon a really entertaining experience.

Hereafter follows three main characters. George, played by Matt Damon, is a genuine psychic who has given up on using his abilities to perform readings for people who have lost loved ones because he says his power is more a curse than a blessing. Marie (Cecile de France) is a French woman who barely survives the Thailand tsunami and sees some floaty dead people. Then there's Marcus (Frankie McLaren) whose twin brother is killed, leaving him sad and alone and looking for answers about the afterlife.

If it seems like I just skimmed over some of the character descriptions, it's because I didn't really care about them. One of the problems of having an ensemble cast is that it's really hard to develop their characters, and Hereafter suffers for this. There's so much more backstory that could have been explored, or dialogue that could have made me empathise with these people, but instead I was treated to about ten minutes of an Italian cooking class for no reason whatsoever. I was wondering what the point of having three separate stories was for most of the movie, hoping that they'd all intersect at some point but increasingly worrying that that wasn't the case. Thankfully they did, but that wasn't exactly fulfilling either.

The acting is not great. Damon does a good enough job, but there really isn't enough here for him to work with. He just kind of plods along and takes everything in, and there's no real conflict for his character to go through, apart from the odd time when he says "I don't want to do a reading for you!" but then ends up doing one anyway. The boys chosen to play the twin brothers are probably the worst actors in the whole movie. Eastwood personally chose two boys who had never been had acting training before because he didn't want them to be "over-instructed". Good thinking, Mr. Eastwood. You know what lack of acting training also does? Makes you a shitty actor. There's a scene at the beginning where the soon-to-be-dead brother is in a pharmacy, and it honestly sounds like he's reading his lines from the shelves, and he can't read well either. My only consolation was that he'd be dead soon and I wouldn't have to hear him painfully plod through every sentence. All in all it's pretty uninspiring stuff, but it's nothing too awful that it detracts away from the rest of the movie, unlike the little snippets of bad writing that can really trip you up as you start to get into it.

I already mentioned the Italian cooking class, but I think it's worth mentioning again. Sure, our male lead may be taking a class to get on with his life, we might need to hear a bit about what he's learning, but you don't need to take the teacher and make him a supporting ast member, especially if he turns out to be more lively than most other people in the movie. There's a scene near the end where the troubled young boy goes into a hotel. A woman asks "Can I help you?", to which he replies "I'm looking for someone". Naturally the woman tells him to leave the building. Why ask if the kid wants help if you kick him out as soon as he starts talking? No reason. Why have that scene there at all? It's completely pointless.

Also, the cinematography is xenophobic. I know that's a bold claim to make, but we start off the movie in a brightly coloured and wonderful Thailand scene (apart from the eventual tidal waves and dead people), and then move on to the nice bright American setting of George's character. Then it's the boys' turn to be introduced, and we skip over to England, immediately greeted with a dark and gloomy house that just makes you feel a bit depressed. I know there are reasons that the house looks a bit dilapidated, I'll forgive the movie for that, but it's just the general look of the scenes set in London that make you feel a bit washed out and depressed throughout.

Okay, that probably was a bit of a wild accusation. I'm probably in a mood where I like to be very picky about things. Hereafter isn't a bad movie, but it could have been so much better. Just get rid of some of the jarring dialogue and unnecessary or lengthy scenes and some things could have been included to really make me connect with these people. You can do so much better, Eastwood.

My rating: 2/5

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