Film review by: Witney Seibold
There are three stories in “Hereafter,” and it’s loaded with incident, but, thanks to Clint Eastwood‘s usual softly deft directing, and penchant for gentle, climax-free storytelling, it feels almost incidental. Eastwood’s style has always been predicated on a more old-fashioned aesthetic, in which films don’t rush, climax early on, and gently crest in their stories, rather than spiking. “Hereafter” is just as calming as anything out there, which is odd for a film that involves psychic powers, a horrible tsunami, the death of children, hidden sexual trauma, intense romance, and a cameo by the actor’s deity Derek Jacobi.
Matt Damon is the selling point of this film (as he worked with Eastwood in last year’s “Invictus”), and he plays George Lonegan, a man who can touch peoples’ hands, and briefly speak to their dead relatives. You’d think that a pragmatic guy like Eastwood would stay away from the spooky stuff, but “Hereafter” gives us an actual visualization of the afterlife. George’s brother wants to bank on his powers (George prefers to work as a day-laborer), but George feels that his powers have stood in the way of him having a nice life with a real mate. He actually says “This is not a gift. It’s a curse.” That he can’t have real relationships is tested when he meets a pretty young (and very interested) redhead in his cooking class. She is played by the pretty Bryce Dallas Howard, and I could see how one would have trouble resisting her charms. Their first date goes poorly.
In the second story, Cécile De France plays a French newsreader-slash-model named Marie who manages to, somehow, survive a killer tsunami while on vacation in the tropics. In the tsunami, Marie briefly died, and had a vision of the afterlife. She asks to take time off of her job to write a book. She initially starts to write about Mitterand, but ends up finding a conspiracy of people who want to deny the scientific evidence that there is an afterlife. Her drama is a gentle one which centers less on her near-death experience, and more her quest for meaning, no thanks to her shiftless boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic).
The third story involves a pair of identical twin boys, Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) who are living in poverty with their alcoholic mother. They are loving, close Dickensian little tykes who work hard to keep social services off their backs, and actually aid their mother in kicking the booze and drugs. When Jason dies in a car wreck, and Marcus is left in the hands of a foster family, he begins to madly search for a real psychic who can talk to the dead. Hm…
Did you catch my use of the word “Dickensian” above? Well, it’s about two-thirds in that “Hereafter” begins making direct references to Charles Dickens. That way, when we find that our three main characters have all managed to meet one another at the same London book fair, we can see the literary allusion, rather than the lazy writing. I suppose if you’re going to have wild coincidences and easy story tie-togethers, it’s best to invoke the spirit of Dickens.
“Hereafter” runs 129 minutes, and makes good, solid use of every moment. Every scene is gorgeous unto itself, and feels like an actual miniature story, rather than a tool merely to get to the next scene. Eastwood is very adept at this, and I enjoy when he does it, regardless of the ultimate success. The film eventually stretches past the breaking point, the story wraps up way too neatly, and it feels like a meaner rather than a path, but it’s still well-made enough to recommend. In other words, it’s more on the “Changeling” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” side of Eastwood than the “Mystic River” side.