The morally purest among us probably feel a twinge of guilt when they knowingly break the speed limit. More of us likely have that sinking feeling in our stomachs when we accidentally run a red light. Somewhere in between knowingly speeding and accidentally running a red (or as I like to call it, "giving too much credit to the yellow light's staying power") is the level of guilt I am at now.
No, I am not typing as I drive.
The guilt started to seep in Saturday afternoon after a matinee of Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort, "Hereafter." Eastwood, already an icon in the acting realm, is quickly becoming just as accomplished behind the camera. It is difficult to argue against the man's talent. "Mystic River" (2003), "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006), "Letters from Iwo Jima" (2006), and "Gran Torino" (2008) would be a sterling career for most men. For Eastwood, that has simply been the encore. He is good enough that I felt guilty when I was not all that into "Hereafter."
Matt Damon is the star of this picture, at least according to the poster. Certainly, he is the only American "name" in the cast (Jay Mohr doesn't count). The real star of "Hereafter," though, is the general sense of foreboding that Eastwood makes a point of showcasing in just about every frame. Peter Morgan's script is mainly about death, so I suppose foreboding makes sense. Even with a seemingly benign start to the movie (Cecile De France's Marie, a reporter, is lounging in bed with her lover on vacation in Southeast Asia), it just feels like something is looming. That something turns out to be a tsunami. Eastwood shows it to us building just offshore as it prepares to wreak havoc. Marie and several villagers stand momentarily like deer in headlights, watching the wall of water rip toward them. Once they start to run, it is way too late. Marie gets swept away but manages to bob along safely for a bit. She gets hit in the head, though, and starts to sink lifelessly into the water. Eastwood takes the lens so close to Marie's eyes that you can see every individual fleck of color in them; you can also see the life literally leaving them.
What Marie sees next is blurry. She is opening her eyes, or trying to. There are human shapes there, maybe even some recognizable figures. It is serene, peaceful, and certainly not the living world. Call it whatever you like. The in-between, the afterlife, the hereafter. Marie gets a glimpse, and then is brought coughing and hacking back to life by some strangers who know CPR. She returns home to France, but her near-death visions leave her completely preoccupied.
I haven't even gotten to Damon yet. It kind of took a while to get here, right? Yeah, get used to that. The biggest reason I did not get on board with Eastwood for this one is the pace, or rather lack thereof. The DMV line moves faster. "Hereafter" moves slowly enough that I became very aware of my reconstructed ACL; "Hereafter" made my knees hurt.
Damon plays a reluctant (excruciatingly reluctant) psychic who can, whether he likes it or not, see what Marie got a glimpse of. Eventually - emphasis on "eventually" - Damon's character ties together with Marie and the other character featured (a little boy coping with the loss of his twin brother).
It just takes forever to get there. So thanks for the guilt, Mr. Eastwood. But my knees still hurt, so we are even.