Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard
Plot: A drama centered on three people - a blue-collar American, a French journalist and a London school boy - who are touched by death in different ways.
Genre: Drama / Fantasy
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Visual Effects
Rating: PG for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)
Directing from a Peter Morgan script would be a dream come true for any humanist filmmaker, even if your name is Clint Eastwood. Morgan who often writes understated stories about characters, who face life-changing events such as in The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008), now has a realist story about the afterlife under his belt.
Under the ageing but steady hands of Eastwood, Hereafter is a decent effort that occasionally straddles into the territory of potential great philosophical films, but it would be too much of a stretch to call this the most life-affirming film of the year.
Hereafter is a story of three parts, of three lead characters who are involved directly or indirectly in the experience with death or near-death. First, a French reporter on holiday witnesses first-hand the devastation wrought by the 2004 Asian Tsunami disaster, and nearly drowns before being rescued. Second, a blue-collar worker named George (Matt Damon) had, during his younger days, a massive medical operation that nearly went wrong, the experience giving him the ability to communicate with the dead. Third, a twin in a broken family faces life without his brother, who untimely dies in an accident.
In the tradition of motion pictures with different characters and their back stories told in separate narrative threads, Hereafter ties them all neatly together by the end of the film, albeit in a manner that is too convenient and sappy to believe, and not at all thought-provoking, considering the somewhat meditative nature of the film.
The happily-ever-after ending fails to build on the promise that Eastwood’s film would be one of considerable power that would spur us to think more about the notion of an afterlife. However, and thankfully so, Eastwood does not resort to religion to guide his film but rather approaches the spiritual concept with a low-key philosophical stance.
One of the film’s most significant flaws is the equal treatment of all the three abovementioned characters. George is designated the lead character not by choice, but by the viewer’s automatic perception that Damon (because of his star status) is the lead actor in this film. Thus whenever he appears, we expect more focus on him, and more development to his story. Unfortunately, we get neither, and it gets increasingly frustrating when there is a switch to the other two threads, especially when Damon’s thread gains narrative momentum.
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, Hereafter begins with a quite realistic recreation of the tsunami disaster. The entire sequence is well-directed, but it is the later parts, steeped in Eastwoodian drama, accompanied by his trademark simple, melancholic piano and guitar solos, that are a reminder of the great American director’s straightforward but affecting way of telling stories.
However, the sluggish pacing of the film, and the above-average acting by the cast do not allow us to fully identity with the characters. As a result, Hereafter is not poignant enough to give viewers that emotional pull, making it one of the weakest efforts from a resurgent Eastwood since Flags of Our Fathers (2006).