Director: Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood’s legendary status ensures he can get finance for any film he wants to make, but surely someone, somewhere must have thought that a globetrotting meditation on death was not Eastwood material. As character-driven as Hereafter may be, it’s still a big production with recreations of real disasters so big Roland Emmerich would be proud, not to mention three disparate storylines, and one of these taking place almost entirely in French. It’s a big ask, but early indications indicate Clint may have nailed it. As the film opens, French TV journalist Marie (Cécile de France) is holidaying in south-east Asia when a (the) massive tsunami hits. The CGI is a little shaky, but Eastwood pulls it off with aplomb. Marie is caught in the torrent and, on the verge of drowning, makes a connection with the beyond. About the same time, a young boy from a poor part of London is bereft after the death of his twin. Both boys are played by real twins, George and Frankie McLaren, and both are awful actors. Still, there’s more to explore. In the US a factory worker named George (Matt Damon) is attempting to leave behind a former life as a psychic who frequently communicated with the dead in the same way Marie experienced. So, how does George communicate with the afterlife? He holds a person’s hand, suddenly sees a load of dead people standing around in a wind tunnel and relays a message from the dead to their loved ones. This should inspire awe; instead, you get shoulder shrugs and the odd unintentional guffaw.
Hereafter is just one big anticlimax. Three storylines gives Eastwood plenty of scope to explore the concept and theories of the afterlife, but no real insight is offered; the afterlife is just taken for granted. Peter Morgan’s (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) script is more concerned with those who have experienced death than the dead themselves. When George takes up a cookery class, you watch Damon chopping onions and wonder whether or not you’re watching the right film. This is supposed to be about psychics, not Gordon Ramsay wannabes! This particular plotline introduces a potential romantic interest for George (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), and her storyline hints at the dark thriller this could/should have been. Instead, it’s a hodge-podge of many other genres. Disaster movie, romance and kitchen-sink drama all feature, but it rarely thrills.
Cécile De France is the best thing in Hereafter, but when the score (composed by Eastwood himself) starts emanating the hoary French harmonica as she dines with her boyfriend, you know he has lost control of his film. Just as one storyline starts to breathe, it cuts back to another plot strand until they all tangle awkwardly and sappily in the final act. Once you realise the weakness of the plot, you’ll feel awkward at the way real-life trauma (the tsunami, the 7/7 bombings in London) is exploited. Hereafter is about as subtle as a brick to the back of the head.
It might seem ageist to suggest the 80-year-old Eastwood is afraid of death, but his refusal to explore it would suggest this may be the case. Hereafter is full of good intent, but boasts nothing approaching cohesion, introspection or revelation. Like its characters, it’s a little too close to death for its own good.