If you want to see this film, though I implore you to not, I suggest you do not read this piece; it will ruin all of the bad that awaits you. Thanks.
The credits roll after two hours and nine minutes of eye-rolling, shift-in-your-chair boredom. I emit a heavy groan, this time audible. A Clint Eastwood Film. Motherfucker! I knew it. I knew a movie I loathed so much could only be made by Clint Eastwood himself, possibly the most boring human being to ever put pen to paper, eye to camera lens, finger to a guitar string. And the fact that in his films he takes it upon himself to be in charge of too much of the above – macro managing things he has no business macro managing – make his movies the most unedited, masturbatory pieces of filmmaking I have ever seen.
Allow me to elaborate.
This weekend I was taken to see Hereafter, a film starring Matt Damon, as seen on blue posters across the city, reminiscent of some Sci-Fi channel nonsense that would neither inspire nor offend. When the time came to purchase my ticket I didn’t resist, though I would have had I known this was of the great Dirty Harry’s handiwork. In fact, I would have hugged my friends, wished them good luck, and headed out the door, saving myself $13 and two hours of nonsensical doldrums. Alas, I had not properly done my research, so I got my ticket, walked inside, and awaited the movie with the hope that I have at the beginning of every film. Blow my mind. Make me feel. Be fucking interesting.
Hereafter is none of these things. In fact, I can’t even tell you what Hereafter is really about because it doesn’t ever make it to any conclusion, let alone climax. The premise (if you could call it that) is Matt Damon’s character is a psychic medium that at some point made a good living connecting people with their dead loved ones. Eventually, however, he stopped, explaining, “A life about death is no life at all.” Thanks, Clint, for your ability to string Hallmark cards together and call it a God damn movie. And so, Matt took to working a blue collar job on a bay somewhere, wearing a hardhat however briefly and taking cooking classes in his spare time, you know, to relax or something, but I don’t really know because it’s never explained. He simply shoes up in a kitchen one day standing in front of a butcher block and wearing an apron.
In said cooking class, he meets a bubbly, ridiculous brunette played by a wide-eyed and self-aware Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard’s porcelain-faced, ginger kid. They establish some sort of superficial relationship there, feeding each other black beans in a ten minute scene talking about what they’re “really in cooking class for” and guessing what the other person is putting into their mouth while wearing blindfolds. Not only does this scene drag on for decades – utilizing a time lapse (Jesus Christ) for when it’s Matt Damon’s turn at the palate plate – but I really don’t want to see Howard’s mouth open for so long in anticipation for a spoon in a display of not-so-subtle cliché sexuality that I notice the cleft down the center. But this is what happens in this movie: I am often so fucking bored that I pay more attention to the minutia of what is not technically part of the storyline than what is, because the “what is” doesn’t matter and is making my brain rot like an US Weekly Magazine.
Though Howard’s screen time seems quite generous, the character’s role in this movie builds up to nothing of any real consequence. After spoonfeeding each other for hours, Howard asks Damon if he’d like to grab food with her. She shuts down his suggestion that they grab a bite nearby, scoffing with a “We’re practically professionals ourselves” or something to that effect. Instead, she insists that they cook dinner at his place though they don’t know each other well. It is there that Damon begrudging reveals his curse as a medium. This, of course, piques her interest and she begs him for a reading. Damon, for about the fifth time in the film demurs with his tired “I don’t do that anymore” and, for the fifth time, breaks down and does it. Too naïve to realize that Damon might be able to pick out a glimpse of a conveniently disturbed childhood, Howard panics when he does, her big eyes wide-eyed with tears and her bottom lip quivering. She grabs her coat and leaves and, from what I can remember, does not return, thus providing the weakest example of how Damon’s psychic ability is ruining his life. With only this scene and Matt Damon’s multiple references to “This is a gift and not a curse” and grouchy “I don’t do this anymore”s – I am left to believe Damon is just a lame ass pushover who doth protest too much.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the two other stories that take place in this movie, interwoven like so many other scripts of the post-Crash era, where everyone exists in a tightly interconnected and 6-degrees-of-separation-ish world. Which, by the way, is a gag that works only so many times until you just want to throw a book at the writers, screaming, “Just give me a fucking linear narrative about one person, you asshole!” The ending is spoiled from the get go, and – being as bored as you are in your seat right there – it is your job to attempt to figure out how they are all going to come together. And, of course, they do at the end of this movie, though in a sloppy and haphazardly way that leaves me irritated the rest of the evening.
The first B-story is about a French anchorwoman on some sex trip with her boss in the tropics. She’s affable and tan and, unfortunately, she leaves in the morning to buy travel gifts for her man’s kids, walking to the open air bizarre and buying bracelets made of shells. She is paying for her trinkets when the tsunami comes barreling down the road, palm trees and telephone poles snapping like twigs before the deluge of water sends her running (laughably) down the street with a young girl in an attempt to outrun it.
The most interesting part of the film – perhaps only one, rather – is this Hollywood recreation of a tsunami crushing down on a city. The ravenous surge of water, bodies colliding unforgivably with pillars and cars, the uncompromising nature of nature and how insignificant a thing we humans really are. Although, to be honest, I don’t surmise to guess that Eastwood was really shooting at achieving any of these things; his goal merely to find a dramatic and visually shocking context for a near-death experience [The French news anchorwoman dies and is revived, the event haunting her vaguely throughout the rest of the movie and without any real urgency or point]. The tsunami holds no real importance in the story other than filling the movie’s CGI budget. For all it matters, she could have nearly drowned falling off the deck of her yacht, only to be saved by talking sharks. Which, as it were, would have made for a far more interesting movie.
The second B-story tells the heartbreaking story of a little boy who loses his twin brother in a car accident while picking up heroin-detox drugs for their train wreck yet unrealistically loving mother. Eastwood attempts a more subtle approach here when it comes to retelling the aftermath of this great loss – there is a scene after his brother dies where the living twin looks over at his brother’s empty bed that is quite touching, but that subtly is destroyed when they don’t just leave it at that but force the boy to deliver the line “Goodnight, James.” And just in case we missed the whole point the first time around, they do it again later for good measure.
Anyway, so this boy’s story is basically about his attempt to reconcile his brother’s death, researching fake-looking You Tube videos about faith and chasing down various mediums and experts whose practices seem neither wholly illegitimate nor wholly comical in their farce. It is during this montage that I walk outside to check my emails, take a bathroom break, and eat some almonds, which proved too noisy a snack choice for the theater.
Speaking of noise. The score. Oh, that God-awful score. Scores are supposed to compliment a film so well that its voice becomes secondary dialogue itself. This is something expertly achieved in movies such as There Will Be Blood or any Christopher Nolan film. And, if such greatness cannot be achieved, at least provide innocuous background noise to camouflage room tone. Clint Eastwood, however, enjoys an obnoxious minimalism that invades each scene like a horsefly on a television screen, obstructing and distracting from what’s really going on. Often, instead of listening to Matt Damon deliver more tired lines, I am stuck listening to what sounds like a thirteen-year-old boy tuning his guitar menacingly slow. Pluck…Pluck…Pluck.
In terms of plot, the movie wraps up bizarrely fast, though in Clint Eastwood time it still takes about forty-five minutes and seven scenes that would be left on the editing floor in any other movie. To make a long story short, Damon leaves San Francisco to travel to London where he ends up at a book fair where the French anchorwoman is giving a speech about life after death and the little boy has come with his foster parents to meet their old foster child. Damon gets harassed into (yet another) reading with the boy, his dramatic need satisfied in an inconsequential scene of tears and “Don’t go, James. Don’t go!” As a thank you, the boy – who is now somewhat of a private eye – has found out where the French anchorwoman is staying, claiming that he knew Damon liked her…blah blah blah. Damon writes a letter. She meets him on a sidewalk café. They shake hands and say hello and it ends. At that point all I wanted in the world was for this movie to be over, but like that?! Like that?! I want my money back, truly and seriously.