Monday, November 08, 2010

"Hereafter" — movie review

Movie: Hereafter
Length: 2469 min (we say; they say 129 min)
Rated: PG-13
Starring: Matt Damon, Cécile De France Bryce Dallas Howard, you won't care who else
Director: Clint Eastwood

Don't you hate it when someone tells a really, really long joke — and it's a bad joke? While it goes on and on and on, you're thinking, "Oh my gosh, here's ___ minutes of my life I'll never have back... I hope at least it's a good punchline."

And then it isn't. Don't you hate that?

Weirder when it's a person who usually tells pretty good jokes. You wonder what happened, what was that about, how could he have thought that was funny?

Hereafter is like that. Director Clint Eastwood knows how to make good movies. This isn't one of them.

My dear wife and I went because Michael Medved absolutely raved about the movie. Medved said lead actor Matt Damon's performance is "simply magnificent," "a career-topper" — the relativity of which should have warned me. More, the viewer would be "fascinated," and every scene would pay off. What moved me to see it in a theater rather than on DVD is Medved's giddy bubbling that the opening of the movie was the most amazing in recent movie history, maybe (he added in live radio) the most amazing ever.

Really? More so than Star Wars (episode 4) or Saving Private Ryan or a dozen other movies with hit-the-ground-running openings? Wow. Plus, the ending (Medved assured) would be romantic, touching, unexpected, and utterly satisfying.

That last part is what stayed in my mind as we sat through meandering, plodding, predictable, listless scene after meandering, plodding, predictable, listless scene. "Yeah, but boy oh boy, the ending is going to be amazing!"

So I just started laughing incredulously as the camera started drawing back at the last scene's end, and when the screen went black. What? That was it? Did we just see the same movie Medved saw?

Here we become mildly spoilerific, an indulgence I allow when I am not going to recommend a movie, as I do not recommend this movie.

The opening was impressive, but it wasn't All That. The first moments are aimless, but when The Event happens — well, at first the CGI stood out as so-so CGI, not up to the standards of, say, Weta (who created Lord of the Rings' truly dazzling and seamless effects). But the latter half of the sequence is indeed an amazing ride, but it isn't "The Best Sequence Evah!"

What the opener does is set up a French reporter who has a near-death experience which changes her life. That's Main Character #1. After that, we meet Main Character #2, a British boy whose twin tragically dies, leaving him alone and heartbroken.

Main Character #3, "George" (played by Matt Damon), is meant to be the ultimately lynch-pin. If this Damon performance is a "career-topper," it can't be much of a career. What makes George almost interesting is that, thanks to childhood illness and surgeries, he's developed an ability which to him is a "curse." If he touches people, he can see and hear their dead loved ones. Ta-daa., that's it.

As George, Damon basically goes the movie sad and mopey and (wait for it) haunted. But not haunted in an interesting way. He isn't "haunted" like Michael J. Fox in The Frighteners, or like the little boy in The Sixth Sense. No, nothing whatever happens to him until he touches someone, and that's over in a minute or two. And that's George's big tragic curse. Again I say "ta," and I hasten to add "daa."

Don't wait for any great moment in any of these encounters, either. There are about four of them, at most, and none is really significant. No climaxes, no great mysteries solved, no deep truths unearthed. Significant only to the person to whom George relays the messages, and in the first two cases, that person instantly leaves the movie. Nothing larger is built on it or comes from it. It's really nothing.

So, back to the three Main Characters. They're all on different continents. You think, "Whoa, if these three come together, it's got to be really dramatic and gob-smacking!"

Well, then: Do the three geographically far-parted characters ultimately come together? What do you think? And when they do, is it by interesting and dramatic circumstances? And is the coming-together dramatic and epic — is it gob-smacking? And is the ultimate pay-off unexpected and satisfying?

To the last three, No, No, and In no way. The ending is totally predictable, makes no particular sense, and gives no real resolution of any consequence. (The viewer isn't even sure whether George comforts the little boy by lying to him; it sure looks as if he does.)

Is there anything involving about the movie? Anything at all? Yes. The little boy's story is compelling in places; his relationship with his brother is sweet, though brief.

But Damon and Cécile De France just are not that interesting. In fact, bit-players are more interesting, including the boy's drug-wrecked mother (played by Lyndsey Marshal), a random woman who begs unsuccessfully for George's help... and Bryce Dallas Howard, who briefly plays a failed love-interest.

I pause to say that Howard (daughter of actor/director Ron Howard) is a remarkable actress. I have seen her in maybe a half-dozen movies, and I never recognize her unless I know in advance that she's in the movie. She vanishes into her roles. You think, "Oh yes, she's this sort of an actress" — until her next movie, when she is totally different.

I had no idea this character was Howard. I was thinking the actress was very capable in that role, but wondered if she was limited to twitchy, hyper parts. Then her crowning scene was just perfectly executed, and I thought, "Hm, not bad." Turns out it was not "not bad," it was perfect. It was Howard, once again so disappearing into a character that you think she was born to play it and only it. Then you think that same thing again of the next totally different character. And the next. And the next.

But even Howard can't save this movie, nor can the other actors or the beautiful scenery. The uninspired, random music doesn't help, either.

You may be thinking, "Oh, yes, all this is because you're a guy. There weren't enough explosions and fist-fights and beheadings for you." To that I simply reply that, if possible, my dear wife liked the movie less than I did — and I didn't like it.

I did learn another emergency technique, however. I mean, The Abyss taught me that if you yell at dead people loud enough along with brutalizing their bodies, sometimes they revive. Now Hereafter adds that if you just give up on a dead person and go watch something else for a minute, sometimes the corpse will just cough up some water and be A-OK. Cool. I can do that.

Does the movie at least present some thoughts worth pondering? After all, it is about death. If you think about it, every one of us is going to spend a whole lot more time dead than we ever spent alive. Should be at least interesting.

No, really, it doesn't and isn't. Not of itself. It purveys the usual Hollywood desperate-hope/myth that everything's going to turn out OK for everyone, even child molesters — the one category Hollywood usually still vilifies, even while playing to it by the sexualization of ever-younger girls — who were impenitent in this life.

There is no God in this movie. One character on a video tells viewers that if they believe in Christ, they've nothing to fear in death. The little boy, who was viewing it, shakes his head and moves on.

This was actually the least-surprising and least-disappointing element to me. Is that in itself surprising? It shouldn't be. We should all of us know never to look to Hollywood for answers. It has none to give, and the answers it thinks it has are all wrong. Its "gospel" is "trust your heart and everything will work out just terrific."

Well, we shouldn't, and it won't. Our hearts are grand deceivers (Jeremiah 17:9). Everything won't work out fine for everyone, because God is a specific Person with specific values and demands, and the absolute right both to have and require them. What's more, He has the relentless power to enforce them.

Atheists rage against this; we all naturally do. We want to be ultimate. If there even is a God, we want Him simply to be there to back our plays and clean up our messes. After that, we want Him to go to His room and leave us to follow our hearts.

One note in the movie, however, brushes near the truth — and then moves right past it. A character says that, if there were life after death, we should expect that someone would have discovered something and reported it back to us.

You want to stop the movie right there and say, "Yeah, wouldn't that be great? If, say, someone were as dead as Julius Caesar, buried, cold and gone... for a day, or two, or even three? And then came back, more alive than ever before, in the flesh? Wouldn't that change everything?"

But, you see, as a matter of fact that has happened. And it really does change everything.

Except Hollywood's willful blindness, and its fascination with itself.

If you'd like to learn more truth about that, you can read it here — but not in "Hereafter."


Terry Rayburn said...


Excellent review.

Your review illustrates why I, as a believer, don't like "serious" literature.

Although I prefer non-fiction books, I like a good John Grisham novel, or maybe a Vince Flynn thriller, because they usually have a good story, plot, action, even character development...

...yet they don't try to do what "serious" literature almost always tries to do, namely this:

"Serious" literature almost always tries to give the most profound answers to life's deepest questions (1) out of the mind of unregenerate man (and therefore without light), and (2)without Christ (and therefore without ultimate Truth).

This becomes to me both boring and intellectually pudding-headed.

And that's what I think about the musing over mortality and immortality by those who refuse what the Lord has already revealed about those subjects.

Rachael Starke said...

Well, given that you managed to quite eloquently point us back to the gospel, I'd say you redeemed the time really well. Great review.

Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems like Matt Damon is rapidly turning into a poor man's version of Sean Penn - his political involvement increases as his talent decreases.

GrammaMack said...

"Again I say 'ta,' and I hasten to add 'daa.'"

Which made me say, "Ha ha." Thanks for the laugh, and for the warning!

Fred Butler said...

Was there a moment when you were standing outside the theater, waiting in line to get your tickets, when you thought, "We could check out Megamind." At least you know what you are getting.

DJP said...

Not really; that'd be a with-kids movie. Will probably be a Burger Night movie.

Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

Yep… we saw it… it was exactly what we expected. Terry is right; it’s what you get when someone “muses over mortality and immortality who refuses what the Lord has already revealed about those subjects”.

I saw Clint Eastwood on Kimmel and he made it clear (to me) that for a guy who just hit 80, (and actually made a movie about the after life), he sure hasn’t given it much thought… sad… really sad. What a testimony he could pull of in a well directed movie if he knew the truth!

As far as Damon… he’s rapidly reaching a point where he’s not a good enough actor to get me to keep financing his leftist movies by paying for other movies like “Hereafter”.

Joe W. said...

"We want to be ultimate. If there even is a God, we want Him simply to be there to back our plays and clean up our messes. After that, we want Him to go to His room and leave us to follow our hearts."


Speaking of Matt Damon, he seems to have extraordinary leftist zeal even by Hollywood standards. Before Howard Zinn died, Damon took Zinn's propaganda, "A People's History of the United States" and produced a documentary and a star-studded college tour.