RUNNING TIME:124 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY:Warner Bros.
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
While on an assignment in Thailand, Marie, a French journalist, becomes a victim of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsumani, but as she starts to drown she seems to catch a glimpse of an afterlife and is then revived back to life. Meanwhile in San Francisco former professional psychic George, who only needs to touch someone before he knows their secrets, attempts to improve his lonely existence by joining a cookery class, while in London Marcus and Jason are twins trying to look after their heroin addict mother when Jason is ran over a bus and killed. Marie, George and Marcus are all trying to find answers to life’s greatest mystery ……….
The question of what happens after we die is one that will probably never be answered, but that hasn’t stopped filmmakers from approaching it every now and again. Personally I’m fascinated by the idea of life after death and am a sucker for any film that attempts, even obliquely, to give some kind of answer. Clint Eastwood’s latest film has been seen by some as a bit of a departure in subject matter for him, but I think that’s a silly statement considering his films tackle a wide range of subjects and several decades before both High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider had supernatural elements. Hereafter seems to have divided both audiences and critics, but it seems that more people felt negative about the movie than were positive about it, and Eastwood’s huge run of success has ended. I personally had a rather strange experience watching it the first time. I didn’t like it much for about a third of the way, I was almost [though not quite] bored and it seemed that the film was taking an eternity to get to wherever it seemed to be going. As it went on though, I started to enjoy the film more and more, got sucked into its slow mood, got involved with its characters, and by the end was really quite affected by the damn thing.
This is more a story of how people cope with death than an exploration of whether there is an afterlife or not, and somehow it manages to superbly convey both loneliness [including that most strange but very relatable kind of loneliness- that of being alone whilst being surrounded by people] and anguish without ever going into melodrama. Peter Morgan’s script devotes equal times to the three stories, which alternate with each other in a manner which is extremely leisurely, but allows you to become really involved with them. I will say that the Marcus/Jason story is weak at times, as said before it takes forever to get anywhere and suffers badly from some poor acting by the twins playing them. Eastwood went after unknowns but it backfired, especially during one atrocious scene where Jason is on the phone in a shop. I almost laughed because he sounded like a robot. This story does though have a great and rather amusing section where Marcus goes to various supposed psychics and they are all charlatans. The Marie story, which opens with the spectacular tsunami [great CG effects here] is possibly the most conventional and at one point jumps suddenly a few days, but still becomes very involving and conveys very well a sense of dislocation, a sense of things never being the same again. Perhaps the best story is that of George the psychic, his attempts to try and integrate more into society by going to the cookery class and starting a tentative friendship with a young woman Melanie are so incredibly touching that they are almost painful to watch, and they culminate in one of the best acted scenes I’ve seen in ages, as George uncovers a certain dark secret about her that he perhaps shouldn’t have done. You are hardly given time to get to know Melanie, as played by Bryce Dallas Howard, but will probably feel so sad for her. It’s obvious that the three main characters are going to meet at some point, and two of the three stories kind of climax in possibly the most touching scene of paranormal ‘contact’ I’ve ever seen; yes I shed a few tears and don’t care.
Many have said that Eastwood, who was given the script by Steven Spielberg who felt it was more suited for him, should not have directed the movie. I disagree. At his age, Eastwood obviously felt he was the right stage of his life to tackle the subject, and the film does have a really wierd and tangible feeling of being ‘near death’, with the characters being numb and almost dead inside. I can’t really explain it properly, but it’s there, and I don’t think a young person could have given a film this feeling. This is also helped by the slow pace. I need to empathise that the film’s pace isn’t so much slow as positively arthritic. The story of the young boy Marcus seems especially to take forever, but the movie was obviously intended to be this way, it’s not automatically a flaw. In many ways this is a less of a typical Hollywood movie and is closer to French Art House, something by Jacques Rivette or Robert Bresson, where we seem to be observing real life, where a conversation may go on for ten minutes rather than be cut short, where the way characters gesture is as important as anything they might say or do. Now I’m generally not a fan of that kind of movie, nor of films with tons of dialogue. I’d rather see something rather than be told about it. Nonetheless, maybe it was just the mood I was in or whatever, but I got really involved with this movie, and away from the cinema, viewing it at home, its intimate feel works much better.
Surprisingly, the film doesn’t go for much of the usual stuff you find in movies of this subject matter. There are brief glimpses of an afterlife. I almost laughed at first as it reminded me of the climax of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind when the Mother Ship opens up and we are dazzled by whiteness out of which people and then aliens appear. I feel this aspect was misjudged, and I’d like to see some more original depictions of the afterlife in movies. There are no visible ghosts though, and in no way can you call this a horror film, it doesn’t ever try to be frightening. There’s not even any real suspense. Eastwood doesn’t even try to create any tension, but as the film builds to its conclusion, if you really get involved with the movie, you might find yourself hoping to God that the film’s characters would get, if not answers, some kind of peace. I know I was, and as far as I’m concerned, if a film brings out a personal response, then it’s a good movie and it has done its’ job.
The performances are generally excellent, with Matt Damon doing a really great job of subtle acting here and giving you information about his character without actually seeming to do much at all. The lovely Cecile De France finally has a role worthy of her amazing early turn in Haute Tension and in some ways it’s the hardest role because it’s the most conventional. Eastwood, as is usual now, also provides the music and his melancholy themes help create the right mood though they are rather too obviously used at times and one of them sounded just like his theme from Unforgiven! You probably want to know, does Hereafter give you any answers and I will say that it does attempt a couple but still leaves a lot of questions. This has obviously frustrated many people but then life is like that and I reckon if the film had told us more it would have been just as criticised. Is Hereafter depressing? Certainly, but it has the courage to give us a rather happy ending that will make any romantics in the audience smile [yet still seems to have annoyed people for being different to the tone of the rest of the film]. The movie will undoubtedly frustrate and probably bore many, but if you have the patience to stick with it and allow yourself to be drawn into its lethargic mood, you may find it very rewarding. After seeing it at the cinema, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it, but it stuck in my mind and wouldn’t go away. On DVD, I knew within seconds of putting it on that I was really going to enjoy it this time. I feel that with each viewing this careful, heart-felt filmwill get better and better.