-James T. Kirk
When I first heard the concept behind Clint Eastwood‘s latest film, Hereafter, I was confused. I wondered why Eastwood was taking on a project that seemed more suited to M. Night Shyamalan. Although ghosts play a role, the film is far from a ghost story. Instead, what Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan deliver is a drama focused on how death touches, and changes, the lives of three disparate individuals.
The film is structured as three separate tales which will inevitably weave together in the final act. A French newswoman (Cécile De France) deals with the consequences after a near-death experience. A young child attempts to move on after death of his twin brother (both parts are played by Frankie McLaren and George McLaren) and the separation from his mother (Lyndsey Marshal). A psychic (Matt Damon) who has renounced his gift with communicating with the dead is pressured by others to use his abilities.
Hereafter is a solid film with some terrific moments and performances. It’s not afraid to throw in a few emotionally gut-wrenching punches at the audience and still ask them almost immediately move on to the next scene. The film begins with an impressive CGI sequence as a tsunami lays waste to a beach community. Marie (De France) is brought back to life, but her views about life and death are shaken by images, real or imagined, that she witnessed while she was dead.
George, the character who knows death the most intimately, spends all his effort to ignore it by controlling his life through a low stress job, an obsession with Charles Dickens, and by regular activities such as taking a weekly cooking class. The pressure from his brother (Jay Mohr) to use his gift for profit and a possible new romantic interest (Bryce Dallas Howard) create complications he’s not prepared to deal with.
Although the tale itself is somewhat simple, each character reacting (or refusing to deal with) their experiences, the bar is raised by terrific performances across the board. Although the least grounded in reality, Damon’s is the best story (and includes a great supporting role for Howard). Cécile De France, however, gives the film’s best performance as a woman who’s life has become untethered as her new outlook puts strain on both her job and relationship (Thierry Neuvic). In much the same way the storyline of the twins shows the difficulty of continuing on after losing what, at the character’s age, amounts to half of himself.
Hereafter isn’t without a few flaws. The film’s biggest strength is how it allows each of the main characters to live messy, complicated lives. Given this, the film’s final act which wraps up all three stories into happy endings with a nice bow on top, comes off forced, and even a tad hollow.
Hereafter also has a need to handhold the audience when it’s not really necessary. This includes some questionable music cues, and some unnecessary scenes of exposition which attempt to shoehorn the world’s skepticism of life after death into a story that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, need that perspective to be successful.
For a film about death, ghosts, and loss, the film stays away from clichéd suspense/horror moments in favor of stark drama. It’s only when the story begins to preach to the audience, or come to easy conclusions, that the story stalls. Even with these issues it’s an easy recommendation to make. It’s certainly not Eastwood’s best film but it is filled with strong performances and powerful emotional moments that make it worth a trip to the theater.