Hereafter, I am Secretly Conviction (Weekly Links)

Afterlife calling: Matt Damon in Hereafter

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

Hereafter. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

The hereafter in Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” is restricted to a handful of hazy shots of white light and people milling around a large foggy space.

As a director, Eastwood tends toward discretion, so it isn’t too surprising that this is the extent of the film’s depiction of what happens when people die. As a speculative vision, it’s far more modest than Peter Morgan’s script, which fairly insists that the hereafter can be experienced by the living.

Especially in touch is a San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon) who once made a living communing with the dead. Now he’d just like to forget all that, despite the obnoxious urgings of a brother (Jay Mohr) who wants to cash in.

Damon’s story is one of three we watch develop. There’s also a London kid who just lost his twin brother and is haunted by the idea of contacting his other half, and a French TV journalist (Cecile De France, from “High Tension”) who blacked out while swept away in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The film begins with the tsunami itself, a truly startling sequence that conveys the terrifying power of water in a way rarely captured on film. The sense of spectacle doesn’t quite fit the quiet, deliberate film that follows, but that very contrast—between a violent, life-altering event and the ordinary day-to-day stuff that inevitably follows—is dramatic.

That’s the best the movie has to offer, along with Damon’s skillful, down-to-earth approach to a potentially icky role. He’s especially good when trying to flirt with a woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) in an adult-education class; Damon brings a subdued humor to the process, and seems much in tune with Eastwood’s understated directing style (they worked together on “Invictus” last year).

Morgan did the scripts for “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon,” and is a literate man. Here he seems influenced by multi-story sagas such as “Babel,” with a dash of M. Night Shyamalan thrown in. His script was apparently inspired by the spiritual questioning that followed the tsunami and terrorist bombings of the last decade, but oddly, the focus is not on the human urge to make sense of death, but on proving that something—even just a vague haze-filled warehouse—exists on the other side.

That tilts the movie away from the rich subject of human psychology and into the realm of the supernatural. Morgan seems to be making the “everything happens for a reason” argument, where his previous work has been more skeptical.

Whether staging a tsunami or quietly tracing a motif of connections made through hands, Eastwood gives the material class. The lingering question is whether the material deserves such care.

Conviction. “Doesn’t quite close the case.”

The Anchorage. “Like a visit to a monastery.”

Last Train Home. “Yearnings and instincts reduced to an economic equation.”

I Am Secretly an Important Man. “You can see how people might have responded to Bernstein’s sheer defiance.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday” I talk with Steve Scher about this year’s crop of political candidates who appear to be gunning for slots on reality-TV shows rather than high office. And so we cast Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, et al., in the course of a slightly-longer-than-usual segment of “The Cultural Moment.” Listen here; the segment begins at the 18-minute mark.

Movie Diary 10/20/2010

127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010). James Franco, in holy goof mode, as the hiker who had to amputate his own arm while trapped in Canyonlands National Park. It’s very much a Boyle film, which somehow seems to fit the hallucinations our hero endures. (full review 11/12)

Merrill’s Marauders (Samuel Fuller, 1962). WWII Burma, with a thoroughly deglamorized view of war a la Sam Fuller, full of strong locations and distinctive exchanges. “Did Lemchek make it?” becomes one of the great Fuller moments, but there are more of them.

The Anchorage (C.W. Winter, Anders Edstrom, 2009). Contemplative non-narrative that feels like time spent in a monastery, the emphasis on ritual and the sounds of nature. The location is a Swedish island, where time is shaped by cleaning fish and listening to the radio news. Pretty cool movie. (full review 10/22)