Hereafter – Review


Eastwood meditates on death

It’s a cliché at this point but if he never had gotten in front of a camera, Clint Eastwood would be legendary for his work behind it. Gran Torino seems to have been his acting oeuvre but he hasn’t let go of his passion behind the camera. A year ago he directed his good friend Morgan Freeman to a brilliant performance as Nelson Mandela and an Oscar nomination with Invictus, but one thing that seems to have been lost after the fact is that Matt Damon earned a nod of his own in the Supporting Actor category for work in the same film. Returning to work with the two time Oscar winning director, Damon and Eastwood must’ve had a strong chemistry behind the scenes because both return for Eastwood’s supernatural thriller Hereafter.

To call it Damon’s film would be a bit of a misnomer because this film follows a similar format as Invictus by using the interconnecting stories motif famously used in Traffic, amongst others. It follows three stories that wind up connecting with one another, all dealing with the biggest question in philosophy: what happens when we die. Damon is a former psychic turned factory worker, viewing his “gift” of interacting with the dead as a curse and not a gift. He’s forever running from this ability to see visions and interact with the dead. A French newscaster (Cecile de France) has a near death experience during a tsunami and is forever changed for it. Her life becomes much different after dealing with death, having a hard time coping with it. And finally a pair of identical twins (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren) is forever separated when one is accidentally killed in a car accident, leaving the living one to deal with the grief.

And while Eastwood has crafted a quiet, contemplative film than what he’s known for it isn’t necessarily a better one than he’s done. But it’s not as if his usual strengths behind the camera aren’t there. This is a film with a lot of strong, but not overpowering, visuals balanced against first rate story-telling. This is a film that doesn’t explore the existence of an afterlife; he leaves that relatively open for debate. What he does is essentially tackle the human perspective behind it. This is about humanity facing death and how we deal with the end of our existence; Eastwood is exploring the emotional aspect behind it and he has an affecting story to tell. What he doesn’t have is three good stories to tell, which is inherently the film’s problem stretched out over two hours.

He has one brilliant storyline with a brilliant actor in it and two others taking up space. And it’s not surprising that Damon is the one doing the heavy lifting; he is one of the more talented members of his generation and this is a role he could do in his sleep and still be entertaining. But he has a director who can push his considerable talent in Eastwood and that makes the difference. George is a man who has psychic visions, but also a diagnosis of a particular form of schizophrenia that could explain what he sees as well. Damon doesn’t play him as a sort of functioning member of society with mental illness, nor is he someone who could be in a romantic comedy who just happens to talk to dead people. He’s a man haunted by what he sees and trying to move past it, finding that he can’t because the world is obsessed with psychics and the paranormal. When we’re with him the movie has a haunting quality to it; Eastwood relies on Damon’s presence, as opposed to dialogue, to bring this out. The way he frames Damon, letting the camera take much longer scenes with him on the screen than with anyone else, brings this out much more significantly. Eastwood plays to his actor’s strength, which is using dialogue in spurts and relying on his physical presence, and the film is engrossing when this aspect of the film is center stage.

And that’s the problem; the film is only interesting when dealing with George and not with the other two storylines (which are substantial). After the film’s opening stanza, where a tsunami hits and Cecile de France nearly dies, the rest of the film struggles to match that level of flair and interest when Matt Damon isn’t on the screen. A two hour film about a man dealing with what George deals with would be a terrific character piece; as part of a collaborative contemplation it only stands as the stronger third of a whole. It isn’t strong enough to carry the rest of the film with it.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Notable Cast: Matt Damon, Jay Mohr, Cecile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard
Writer(s): Peter Morgan

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