Hereafter is surprising in the way it presents a completely broad-minded 80-year-old Clint Eastwood. After watching his various films from the past decade, you’d think this director would be unshakable in terms of his approach to filmmaking. But in Hereafter, Eastwood deals with a number of things that you won’t find in the rest of his filmography. The opening tsunami sequence, for example, which is filled with CGI, isn’t the sort of thing one would expect from a director with such an old-school pattern. Neither would one expect the use of multiple narrative threads, or supernatural innuendos.
The key here, though, is how Eastwood blends the old with new. He has composed another quietly effective score, created another shadow-filled environment with the help of cinematographer Tom Stern, and assembled another sharp cast. Eastwood’s patience is also present, which could prove to be a drawback for some viewers, seeing as how the film runs a few ticks over two hours.
Along with the deliberate pacing — which wasn’t a problem for me, but could potentially turn off plenty of viewers — the film struggles with a lack of balance between the three storylines. Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, a San Francisco factory worker who has fled his life as a psychic, despite the financial pleas of his brother Billy (Jay Mohr). Elsewhere, French reporter Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) deals with the paramount side effects of surviving the 2004 Indion Ocean tsunami, and, in London, twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) hope that they can transform their drug-addicted mother (Lyndsey Marshal) into a functioning parental figure.
It’s not too difficult to guess the problem right off the bat. It’s very tough for an audience, especially a mainstream one, to sit through an intertwining narrative when a major movie star like Damon is asked to share screen time with a bunch of unknowns. Thankfully, Cécile de France carries a warm and definitive presence that is always welcome. It is the young McLaren brothers who wind up with the short end of the stick, even if their thread is well-intentioned and their performances are up to par. It helps everyone involved that Damon is playing a down-to-earth, blue-collar American, rather than the action star audiences have grown to crave.
I have had a long-time desire to see screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) delve outside of his political comfort zone, and he finally does it here. The best service Morgan does for the film is his creation of sympathetic characters. A common complaint of stories of this nature is that the climactic coincidence that brings the narrative threads together isn’t convincing or realistic. I suppose that argument could be made here, but because Morgan and Eastwood are so delicate in their presentation, I found myself hoping for such a coincidence.
There are some interesting subplots I haven’t mentioned yet. Damon’s George, perhaps because he is a loner, enrolls in a cooking class. He becomes partners and friends with Melanie, who is played by the intriguing Bryce Dallas Howard. From moment one, Howard instills the character with an over-the-top sense of cheer that sends off warning signals to us, but maybe not to George. The development of their bond is startling, not to mention the fact that the cooking scenes provide the film with some needed humor.
Marie’s relationship with Didier (Thierry Neuvic) also generates interest. He is her main correspondent when she is on the air, and when she’s off, the two appear to be in a stable relationship. But complications arise when Marie’s near-death experience jeopardizes her work, and Didier suggests that she take a leave of absence to write a novel.
By the midpoint of Hereafter, it became clear that I wanted the film to have a tidy conclusion. This is a testament to how much I cared about these characters. Seeing Damon in such a subdued role is a jarring experience, and the subtleties Eastwood gets out of his newly-enshrined go-to performer are enduring. The other actors, especially de France, fair just as well. The film is simply a love letter to life, which I guess is what we should want out of a story dealing with the afterlife. When people are affected by death, they want nothing more than to get over it.
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