Putting aside The Outlaw Josie Wales, High Plains Drifter, and Unforgiven, terrific westerns bearing Clint Eastwood’s unmistakable air of somber, refined cool – qualities we observe in his best performances – I’m completely at ease asserting he’s the clumsiest A-list filmmaker in Hollywood. One of the greatest movie stars of all time, overqualified for iconic, forever and ever status alongside Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in the pantheon, but a wet blanket behind the camera.
Hereafter, which I wish L. Ron Hubbard was still around for, is sure to inveigle critics with its “contemplative pace” and “mood.” But don’t mistake aberrant filmmaking for vision. Don’t confuse Clint’s hand with his haunch. For all the waiting we’re made to do in Hereafter, we might as well be in a Dreyer movie (watching Gertrud at least gets you bragging rights). As in “The Golden Girls,” every new scene begins with an establishing shot; as in a student film, no scene begins until the actors have walked into the frame, and none ends until they have left it; each line is followed by a ham-handed meaningful pause wherein we are, I suspect, supposed to be absorbing a certain latent emotional complexity which, sadly, is never latent. (For more on this, see Million Dollar Baby, Invictus, Gran Torino, and Mystic River, an equally miserable film, which contains one of the most insincere cinematic clichés in all of filmdom – the crane up from a dead body/grieving person to signify the ascension of their spirit/cry to God up from the concrete and into [you guessed it] heaven. Is that really, after his eighty years in life and film, Clint Eastwood’s best evocation of that experience? It seems to be. He does it again in Hereafter.)
They say Clint Eastwood is the last classicist. He isn’t. Peter Bogdanovich is the last classicist. Clint Eastwood is merely out of touch. He makes movies as if people haven’t been making and thinking about movies for a hundred years. Add to that Hereafter’s amateur metaphysics, and you have a film only M. Night Shyamalan could love.