C ritics can be just as susceptible to buzz as regular audiences.
I missed out on an opportunity to catch Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter during the Toronto International Film Festival, but got wind of less than favorable comments from the viewing press grapevine, so I immediately began to downgrade my expectations for the film. I was already concerned because Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) seemed to be walking along the darkly enlightened path of people able to commune with the recently deceased alongside Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu whose Biutiful, featuring a devastating performance from Javier Bardem, certainly seemed to be the critical favorite. Biutiful, a foreign language entry would likely have trouble speaking to mainstream US audiences, but the subject matter appeared to be out of Eastwood’s wheelhouse. So I wasn’t entering the advanced screening with much hope.
And right out of the gate, Eastwood stumbles with a opening tsunami sequence that looks like something out of a Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich disaster extravaganza – fake waves rushing through a Third World coastal line straight out of Photoshop. The film hadn’t hit bottom, but the floor was right beneath its feet.
And then a funny thing happened. The triptych structure, which travels from San Francisco (and its focus on Eastwood’s new Everyman stand-in Matt Damon) to London (and a pair of young twins) and finally France (where a hard-hitting and stunningly cute journalist tries to regain her footing in the world after surviving the initial tsunami), that is usually Inarritu’s modus operandi, proves to be perfectly suited to Eastwood’s straightforward approach. He never overplays the narrative jumps because that’s just not his style. He is a minimalist with a wry sense of humor and sentiment. Morgan’s script is pitch-perfect as well, never attracting undue attention away from the questions at the heart of the story. And how does one live a life when the pull from the afterlife threatens any effort to remain firmly rooted in the here and now.
Damon makes us feel that dilemma. Eastwood never lets us forget that this is the only thing that matters and this film is his all the way, despite the strong presence of Damon, Morgan’s script, and the gravitational pull of the subject. It is his right down to the use of music, always an Eastwood signature, since he has the intimate sense and feel of a musician and filmmaker who knows better than to let the score overwhelm the game.
On my way home from the screening, Jeff Buckley’s version of “Satisfied Mind” popped up on my iPod and as I listened to this beloved (gone too soon) singer’s take on being prepared for the end, I realized just how satisfied I was with Hereafter. It is not Biutiful, but Eastwood’s beautiful mind and sensibilities have created a note of grace that audiences should seek comfort in.