The Superbowl commercial which really got people talking this year featured Clint Eastwood …but wasn’t for a movie.
Major studios often pay top dollar for the prestigious half-time spot at the Superbowl.
Independence Day (1996) probably had the most famous one of recent times and the big ones this year included spots for Marvel’s The Avengers, Disney’s John Carter, Paramount’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Universal’s Battleship.
The price average price was $3.5 million per thirty-second ad.
Three parallel stories connected by life after death make for an ambitious but disappointing drama.
Clint Eastwood’s directing career over the last few years has encompassed diverse subject matter, including female boxing (Million Dollar Baby), World War II (Falgs of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima), retired car workers (Gran Torino), missing children (Changeling) and the 1995 Rugby World Cup (Invictus).
But even by his eclectic standards Hereafter is something of a curveball, exploring how three characters across the globe are affected by the afterlife in different ways.
There is a French TV presenter (Cécile de France) obsessed with death after narrowly surviving the 2004 Asian Tsunami; a former psychic (Matt Damon) in San Francisco who feels cursed by his ability to communicate with the dead; and a London schoolboy (Frankie McLaren) struggling to cope after losing his twin brother.
Scripted by Peter Morgan, best known for political dramas The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008), the material boldly dives in to big themes but as it progresses feels curiously disjointed and more like an early draft of something more profound.
The intercutting of the three stories at first feels like a bold move but soon becomes wearying and as the film enters into the final act, the curious lack of tension or revelation for a subject as big as death feels oddly underwhelming.
All this is exacerbated by Eastwood’s signature pared down directing style which (with the exception of the opening) keeps things low key and distant.
This gave his better films of recent years (Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima) a slow burning power and richness, but here it works against the material, muting the themes and emotions of the lead characters.
There are parts of the film that show promise: the San Francisco section handles the potentially laughable subject of psychics with an elegant restraint and Damon conveys the loneliness of a decent man haunted by a strange gift.
In a similar way, Cécile de France is convincing as a career woman profoundly touched by death and a scene where she visits a clinic, hints at a more interesting film about humans can briefly experience the afterlife.
Instead the afterlife is presented through the cliché of quick cuts, sound effects and glowing white CGI which is both disappointing and underwhelming.
This is compounded by the London section, which not only bungles key details of the 2005 London bombings (getting the tube stations wrong) but suffers from a dramatic inertia, compounded by a bizarre final section in the city which is lacking in tension.
Morgan’s initial script may have stood out in Hollywood because he wrote it on spec – rather than be commissioned by a studio – and the unusual elements might have piqued Eastwood’s interest because they weren’t chasing an industry trend.
To be fair to the veteran director, his handling of the locations and interior scenes is impressive, with Tom Stern’s lean and clean cinematography featuring a little more movement than their previous collaborations.
Eastwood’s score is also a plus, with the guitar and piano providing a nice counterpoint to the struggle of the different characters struggling to comprehend their situations.
Some scenes hint at what might have been: such as a quietly disturbing psychic reading on a first date; the startling opening sequence and a brief discussion about the commonality of near-death experiences.
The film deals with the subject of death without the loud bombast favoured by mainstream cinema and moves at a reasonable, if fractured, pace but the story never really digs deep or rises to be anything special.
A set of underdeveloped ideas and a patchwork, dislocated narrative provide a weak foundation, which means that by the curiously uninvolving climax you might have forgotten it is about arguably the biggest subject of all.
Ultimately Hereafter is a film which chooses not to stare death in the face, but give it a distracted, passing glance.
Notable for cementing his reputation as one of Europe’s finest directors, they still remain amongst his finest work and feature some exquisite cinematography from long-time collaborator Sven Nykvist.
Through A Glass Darkly (1961) is a searing family drama about a disturbed young woman (Harriet Andersson) as she holidays on a summer island with her detached father (Gunnar Björnstrand), husband (Max Von Sydow) and brother (Lars Passgård). It won Bergman his second Best Foreign Film Oscar and is bleak but engrossing study of a family struggling to cope under enormous emotional and mental strains. Andersson and Van Sydow are especially outstanding in their roles.
Winter Light (1962) explores the spiritual crisis facing a small-town pastor (Gunnar Björnstrand) over a single Sunday afternoon in November. As his congregation dwindles, his remaining parishioners (Ingrid Thulin, Max von Sydow) have problems which reflect his own spiritual demons. Björnstrand gives one of his greatest performances and the lack of music, sparse sets, and stark black-and-white photography all add to the powerful sense of desolation. Released in the year when the world actually was on the brink of nuclear Armageddon, it is one of Bergman’s most raw and spellbinding films.
The Silence (1963) is the enigmatic tale of two sisters: the eldest is a translator (Ingrid Thulin) with a serious illness, whilst the younger one (Gunnel Lindblom) has a young son (Jörgen Lindström). Whilst travelling back to Sweden, they stop off in an unidentified Central European country and various tensions arise. The human struggle to communicate with each other as well as God is a pervasive theme throughout and the sensual depiction of human desire is superbly evoked (so well in fact, that the film caused considerable controversy when it was released).
Tartan have remastered the films and added introductions with Marie Nyrerod speaking to the late director.
Although they are short they feature Bergman talking about his fondness for Winter Light and the censorship issues surrounding by The Silence.
The discs come in separate slim line cases along with a booklet of reviews by the late critic Philip Strick. The discs are all region free.
14 Blades (Icon Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD] Centurion (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD] Elvis – The Movie (Fremantle Home Entertainment) [DVD] Mongrels: Series 1 (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD] Perrier’s Bounty (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD] The Killing Machine (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD] The Machinist (Palisades Tartan) [Blu-ray / with DVD] Whip It (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]