Critical Mass: 'Hereafter'
Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon take a turn at tackling the world of life after death with "Hereafter," a film that intertwines the lives of a medium, a French journalist who undergoes a near-death experience and a London kid who's just lost his twin brother. The film is a notable departure of genre for Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan ("The Queen," "The Last King of Scotland," "Frost/Nixon"), which led Peter Travers of Rolling Stone to summarize: "In more than half a century of making movies, Clint Eastwood, 80, has sent many a varmint to his maker. 'Hereafter' is the first time he's showed any curiosity about what lies on the other side."
Even so, Eastwood stays on his directorial track, guiding the movie with a deliberate pace that has divided critics. In the positive camp, The Times' Kenneth Turan calls it "quiet but potent filmmaking that believes nothing is more important than the story it has to tell."
Turan goes on to describe the film's opening scene of a tsunami, which is reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster: "Eastwood's team makes this wall of water and Marie's near-death experience in it so convincing that it can't help but be deeply disturbing to watch, giving us more of a sense of what being trapped in a tsunami would actually be like than we may want."
Likewise, the New York Times' A.O. Scott has praise: "One of the reasons that 'Hereafter' works as well as it does -- it has the power to haunt the skeptical, to mystify the credulous and to fascinate everyone in between."
Well, maybe not everyone, says the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern: "Either you buy their Vaseline-lensed visions of the hereafter, or you watch in stony silence, as I did, wondering why there's no one to care about."
Moving on to the performances: Although Damon has generally been receiving praise for his performance as George Lonegan, the medium who has turned his back on his psychic gift, the New Yorker's David Denby calls the character "puffy-looking and blockish," and further states that "it's the first boring performance of Damon's career, although the bland inertia may not be his fault."
Damon's costars, Cécile de France (as journalist Marie), Frankie McLaren (London kid) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Damon's character's girlfriend) each left lasting impressions with critcs. Variety's Justin Chang was particularly struck by Howard, writing that "it's Howard whose relatively brief presence really lingers, her performance starting off goofy and ingratiating before taking on an almost otherworldly intensity."
Still, it's the film's pacing that seems to have divided the critics the most. Bob Mondello (NPR) calls it "a slow-motion tidal wave of afterlife hokum," and Claudia Puig (USA Today) says there is "too much time and detail spent on less-than-integral relationships."
But Time's Richard Corliss champions the "slow flow," stating: "If you ... stick around for its rapturous resolution, you'll see this as a summing up, a final testament of so many Clint characters, from 'The Man With No Name' to 'Dirty Harry,' from 'Million Dollar Baby's' Frankie Dunn to 'Gran Torino's' Walt Kowalski, for all of whom facing down death was a natural part of life."
-- Jevon Phillips
Top photo: Matt Damon in "Hereafter." Bottom photo: Director Clint Eastwood, left, talks with Cécile de France on the set of "Hereafter." Credit: Warner Bros.