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You better run: de France in Hereafter.

The Haunted

By Ann Morrow

Hereafter

Directed 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.

 

Little Ado About Nothing

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Directed 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.

—Laura Leon


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