Let the Oscar Race Begin

Clint Eastwood is the greatest story-teller making movies today. It’s a bold statement, but looking at his collective work and contribution to film as an art form, one that I stand by. His movies may not always be bright and sunny (in fact, they never are), but they are always thought-provoking, emotionally poignant works of art that tell their respective stories with impeccable attention to detail.
In his latest effort, Clint Eastwood brings us Hereafter, a phenomenally gut-wrenching, yet simultaneously uplifting tale of life, death, and what happens both after and in between. I haven’t been as emotionally rocked by an opening scene since the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and anyone who sat in that theater can tell you that I sobbed like a baby well after the troops cleared the beaches on that one. Eastwood manages to focus on the little moments and precious humanity during an unthinkable disaster, allowing the audience to connect on a very personal level to Marie Lelay, a French journalist who must confront death and learn to live, not just survive. Played with both vulnerability and a captivating strength and grace by Cecile De France, Lelay is a truly unique character, and her search for answers drives a compelling side story.
Our other side story follows young Marcus, a London school-boy who I really don’t want to go into detail about. Just trust me: this kid will make you want to reach out to the screen and hold him close to you, if only just to make yourself feel better. Eastwood is nothing, if not an actor’s director, and the performance he gets from both Frankie and George McLaren (dually cast) is fantastic.
Though the movie is split into thirds, the story following George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is, to me, the driving force behind the movie. George is a lonely San Francisco factory worker with a talent that some people call a gift, but one that he sees as a curse. With just one touch, George can see and hear the dead family and friends of those who he offers to “read.” I’m having a hard time deciding if I think this or Good Will Hunting is Matt Damon’s greatest performance, as he gives a beautiful, heart-breaking, understated performance as a man just looking to connect with someone in life, who won’t get too creeped out by his sixth sense.
Eastwood is not a man who gives undeserved second roles to actors, and making movies with Damon back to back shows what confidence he has in his ability. The film is insanely well cast (Bryce Dallas Howard gives a short, but amazing performance), hauntingly scored by Eastwood himself, and beautifully written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland), who gives the audience much needed breaks from the heavier scenes by adding humor when you might not expect it. I wonder how the script length for Hereafter would compare with other films at the same length, as Eastwood is such a visual storyteller: he doesn’t need to overstate emotion with words when you can clearly feel what he’s trying to convey.
Without having seen the rest of the big films that will be released later this year, I feel safe in saying this is a major Best Picture contender. Eastwood is an Academy favorite, and when he’s in his element, it’s hard to ignore him for Picture, Director and Original Score. I’d also be surprised if Morgan didn’t get a nod for writing, and could even see Damon and De France getting acting nods as well. This is just the kind of film the Academy likes, yet it’s got enough mass appeal to entertain and move mainstream audiences as well. I’ve been yearning for a movie to take me on a journey and make me believe in the power of cinema again. A few movies have come close this year, but Hereafter delivered on all accounts, and then some. Many thanks, Clint.