better run: de France in Hereafter.
by Clint Eastwood
A natural disaster of almost supernatural force provides Hereafter
with a virtuoso opening sequence that will change—and intertwine—the
lives of three people who would not have met otherwise. Marie
(Cecile de France) has just left her oceanfront hotel room
when she is swept into a tidal wave that destroys almost everything
in its path. She drowns, and recovers. The sequence is obviously
the work of a master filmmaker, but not so recognizable as
coming from Clint Eastwood (working with cinematographer Tom
Stern). The subsequent story, an exploration of beliefs about
the afterlife, is even less characteristic of Eastwood’s oeuvre,
yet it’s the director’s craft that makes this not-quite-haunting
meditation on mortality compelling.
After recovering from the tsunami, Marie returns to her job
as a TV journalist in Paris. She is distracted, however, by
images from her near-death experience and begins investigating
the hereafter. Meanwhile, George (Matt Damon), once a famed
psychic, tries to create a normal life for himself, working
construction and taking a cooking class to interact with the
living without having to channel messages from departed loved
ones. He tells his exploitive brother (Jay Mohr) that “a life
about death is no life at all,” yet hiding his gift proves
to be impossible. For twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie
and George McLaren) contending with potentially fatal situations
is routine, because their loving mother is a heroin addict.
The inclusion of identical twins, who think and act as almost
one person, is the script’s most intriguing gambit, but the
twins’ inclusion in story’s three interlocking parts is also
the most incidental and unsatisfying.
Written by the talented Peter Morgan (The Queen), the
story runs out of revelations after the protagonists are brought
together. But it almost doesn’t matter, since along the way
to a fateful roundabout at a London book fair, each of the
characters experiences loss and heartache in their individual,
fully realized and gently moving existences. Damon is the
most typical Eastwood protagonist, a humble loner with a damaged
past. The effects of his years as a medium melt away in his
cooking class, and a blindfolded tasting between George and
his class partner (Bryce Dallas Howard) turns into a subtle
exercise in tentative eroticism. With Marie, who is as feminine
as she is powerful, Eastwood again proves his deftness with
women characters, and the gradual exposure of the ephemeral
underpinnings of Marie’s high-profile and glamorous identity
as a public personality is handled with affecting precision.
Though Hereafter is underwhelming in its depiction
of the impact of life-after-death on the living, its flawless
acting and aching characterizations make the film’s here-and-now
more absorbing than its paranormal premise.
Ado About Nothing
Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
by Woody Allen
The garbled intro to Woody Allen’s latest tale of modern relationship
angst is a slight misquoting from Shakespeare: “Life is full
of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” That Shakespeare actually
had MacBeth mouth this famous line is beside the point for
Allen, who here seems hopelessly adrift from anything approaching
a meaningful cinematic experience.
As with most of Allen’s work, Tall Dark Stranger involves
myriad characters with varying degrees of interaction. Helena
(Gemma Jones) is reeling from the estrangement of former hubby
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who is getting his late-life groove
back with call girl fiancé Charmaine (Lucy Punch). To bide
time until the forecasted title character comes her way, she
drinks heavily, which in turn creates problems for her daughter
Sally (Naomi Watts) and son-in-law Roy (Josh Brolin). Sally
is frustrated: She’d like a baby, she’d love to run an art
gallery, and she’d really swoon if Roy would ditch his dreams
of writing the next big novel and return to his former successful
career as a doctor. For his part, Roy is torn up over his
failure to follow up on the success of his first book. His
writer’s block transforms to an obsession with neighbor Dia
(Frieda Pinto), a cellist. Meanwhile, Sally flirts with her
wealthy boss (Antonio Banderas). All this takes place in a
London backlit in a shower of golden light by Vilmos Zsigmond.
And all this is a prelude to pretty much nothing.
It’s not as if Allen doesn’t know how to milk raw human emotion.
His 1980s heyday proved his capacity for blending the tragic
and comic threads of our existence, most notably with Crimes
& Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters.
While the former was unrelentingly dark and despairing, the
fragility of its characters came to the fore, raising universal
and profound questions about life’s meaning for them and the
audience. The latter was much more honeyed in its tone, but
no less powerful, especially in its depiction of aging characters
searching for meaningful love. Sadly, You Will Meet a Tall
Dark Stranger only hints at the resonance of these earlier
movies, while doing nothing to catapult itself into the realm
of our interest.
The cast is uniformly superb, clearly enjoying the chance
to work with Allen. But for the most part, they’re not given
much to bite into. Only Brolin transcends the mundane material
of Allen’s script. Roy is cursed with the awareness that he’s
not all that talented, despite his freshman success as a writer.
The longer he goes without a credible follow-up, the more
it underscores this truth, and presents the possibility that
others may begin to question his place in the pantheon of
modern writers. While I found it doubtful that the luminous
Dia would entertain a relationship with Roy, I completely
bought the intensity that Brolin brought to the chase; clearly,
Roy’s conquest of Dia would prove something that he desperately
needs. No other character’s internal wonderings carry the
same emotional weight as Roy’s. It’s as if Allen has gathered
his most attractive dolls and arranged them, just so, in lush
interiors, with no thought to what to do with them once assembled.