I went to see Hereafter with some hesitation. Clint Eastwood has made some outstanding films in his career with Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) being the highlights of his later career. I was not particularly fond of Changeling (2008) or Invictus (2009) and with Matt Damon headlining the film I had some major reservations. Eastwood has often dealt with darker themes in his films and Hereafter is his most obvious portrayal of death as a major character. The film tells three parallel stories about people who are affected by death in different ways. One is able to communicate with the dead, another has just a sibling, and the third has survived a terrible natural disaster. I like the idea of the parallel stories but personally I believe that the film would have worked better had the film focused on one story or had the stories overlapped sooner. The use of parallel stories was superbly executed in Robert Altman's brilliant Short Cuts (1993) and less successfully, but more enjoyably, in 2 Days in the Valley (1996). I found Hereafter to be overreaching and slightly pretentious. I was also not convinced by Matt Damon's performance and his credibility as an actor is diminishing for me. The saving grace for the film is Belgian actress Cécile de France, whose performance and emotional restraint complement the film. Hereafter does offer an interesting take on death through the eyes of three characters, but the film finds it hard to balance the three stories and the emotional cohesiveness necessary to the film is often lost.
Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), a French television journalist, is on location in Thailand for an assignment. She is in the market when a tsunami comes crashing through and she is swept underwater. Unconscious underwater she has a near-death experience and has a vision of a bright light. Marie is ultimately resuscitated by rescuers and reunited with her lover Didier (Thierry Neuvic). Upon their return to Paris Marie finds it hard to focus on work and takes a leave of absence to focus on writing. Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) are twelve year old twins living in London. Their mother is a heroin addict and they are desperate to remain in her custody and not social services. While running an errand to the pharmacy Jason is attacked by a group of older boys and as he tries to escape into the street he is hit by a van and killed. Marcus has a terrible time coping with his brother's death and is eventually put in a foster home. Finally, there is George (Matt Damon) who lives in San Francisco and once made a career using his ability to communicate with the dead. He had to quit because he found it too difficult to cope with the emotional responsibilities. George enrolls in a cooking class and is paired with a beautiful young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard). They soon become very close and eventually she learns of George's gift and persuades him to do a reading. He reluctantly agrees but the experience is so traumatizing that she leaves and never sees him again. George decides to take a much deserved vacation and goes to London. Marie is also in London on a book tour for her book Hereafter. Hereafter builds to a climax when all three lives intersect at a book fair in London.
Hereafter is uneven in terms of story and emotion. The bleak colours on screen, which have worked for Eastwood in the past, unfortunately make it more difficult for the viewer to empathize with the characters. It is as if we are watching through a filter and all the relevant emotions have been drained, much like the colour. Part of my problem with the film may be due to the overlapping stories. I was never able to fully connect with Marie, Marcus or George because the focus was always changing. Hereafter has some interesting ideas about death and the afterlife but the film lacks conviction, which may be due to Peter Morgan's mediocre screenplay. Ultimately, Hereafter does not succeed because it fails to ignite any debate about the hereafter. Eastwood has proven in the past that he can handle delicate themes and characters, but Hereafter does not have enough thematic or character development.
My rating: 2 stars out of 4.