TIFF: Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter;” Sam Rockwell Kills in “Conviction”

Clint gets thoughtful about the afterlife in “Hereafter,” with Matt Damon; Tony Goldwyn’s “Conviction” features a searing performance by Sam Rockwell

Watching Clint Eastwood’s work in this twilight period of his career often feels like reading his diary, or flipping through his sketchbook. You feel like you are being let in to his most private thoughts and preoccupations.

No surprise, then, that “Hereafter” – which got its first public glimpse on Sunday night – is a narrative meditation about the afterlife and whether it exists. Eastwood, 80, may as well have sent us a letter that said: ‘I’m wondering if there’s anything out there for me after this.’

This filim has three intertwining stories, starring Matt Damon as a psychic who struggles with a gift he considers to be a curse. A French newscaster (Cecile deFrance) survives the tsunami (an incredible, and shocking opening scene that gives us a clear idea of what that horrific natural disaster may have been like to live through) and changes her prosaic views on mortality. A British child loses a sibling and suffers as he seeks to connect with him in the afterlife. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a love interest for Damon who has her own past secret.

Eventually the stories interconnect, but the film is slow, deliberate and particularly dark,. Eastwood will not be rushed (or shortened, the film clocks in at two and a half hours). He often films his actors in obscurity, as if they are shades already of another world.  The emotional payoff is equally deliberate and slow and almost beside the point.

The entire film feels somehow like a great question mark.

The director is one of the few working today who seems utterly unaffected by the trends in filmmaking around him, by the frenetic pace and divided attention span of the 21st century.

If anything his films seem to get slower and deeper as he continues from year to year.

He and Damon and Howard attended the screening, but took no questions from the audience. (Top photo by Sharon Waxman.)

 

Another film with award-season hopes to get an early viewing at Toronto was “Conviction,” the true story of Betty Anne Waters, played by Hilary Swank, whose devotion to her brother leads her to get a law degree in order to prove his innocence and get him out of jail.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn, the story is amazing on its face and trips back and forth through time to deftly show the depth of Betty Anne’s bond to her brother Kenny – convicted of first degree murder – and the toll the sentence takes on him, on her and their families.

The revelation in the film is Sam Rockwell as Kenny Waters, a working class lunk filled with rage and humor and tenderness. Rockwell’s restrained performance as a man abused by the system, and unloved by any except by his sister with the fiercest kind of love imagineable, is a heartbreaker.

The whole tale has the added impact of being true. I won’t tell you what happens, but you can easily Google the thing.  Definitely worth seeing.