2010, PG-13, 129 min. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thierry Neuvic, Derek Jacobi, Marthe Keller, Richard Kind.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 22, 2010
Hereafter is a consistently identifiable Clint Eastwood movie only in the sense that the prolific filmmaker shows that he still has the ability to confound our expectations of him. Whether it’s a story about a scrappy female boxer, dual-perspectived Iwo Jima films (one of them in Japanese), or the love story of a lonely Iowa housewife, we have grown accustomed to Eastwood’s late-career defiance of his early screen reputation as a terse man of action, an antihero propelled by an instinctive moral code and unhindered by any need to step back and think things over. Hereafter, however, finds Eastwood in full-on contemplative mode as the film ponders what happens to us after we die. So far, so good – who among us has not wrestled with the same questions? Yet the film never really asks the questions. It assumes that there is a life hereafter, one that is flooded with white light, fills one with a feeling of all-knowing serenity, and is lined with minions of murky figures murmuring indecipherably to the newcomer. It turns out that the dead are a chatty bunch, who have lots of messages to convey back to the living. It really makes one wonder how fantastic the afterlife can be if the dead are still so consumed with the lives of the living. Much of the blame for the film’s muzzy thinking has to go to screenwriter Peter Morgan, who was on much firmer footing when dealing with the lives of nonfictional characters in The Queen and Frost/Nixon. Morgan and Eastwood’s depiction of the afterlife repeats the standard clichés, never examining whether the white light and the unintelligible greeting committee stick around for all eternity or are the result of human brain chemistry firing wildly in its death throes. Furthermore, the film contends that there is a conspiracy of government silence that discourages investigation into the afterlife. The movie is structured in the au courant fashion of three separate but converging storylines, and though the mechanics of bringing the three characters together in the same city are a bit creaky, you still have to give Hereafter props for setting its climactic convergence at the London Book Fair, which is surely an original filming location. Damon gamely plays a psychic who finds his ability to communicate with the dead a curse rather than a blessing, much to the chagrin of his more entrepreneurial brother (Mohr). De France is a news reporter who survives a tsunami in the film’s opening sequence (a bravura piece of CGI filmmaking that threatens to derail the movie once we realize that nothing that follows can eclipse the intensity of that opening set-piece) and is so haunted by her near-death experience that she is no longer able to perform her job. She plunges into an investigation of the conspiracy of silence surrounding the afterlife. (Presumably, only her hairdresser knows the secret of her tousled hairstyle that is likely to become faddish.) The third story strand wraps itself around Marcus (George McLaren), a London boy who becomes desperate to speak with his dead twin brother. Hereafter bravely and successfully maintains its doleful mood throughout, and it is indeed a hard film to shake. But then the image returns of a smoky gray ghost reminding us to turn off the oven light and go about our business. And the melancholic mood then evaporates into dust.