Eastwood spins an intertwining tale of three individuals from separate worlds, each touched by death in unique ways, their lives forever altered as the world spins about them oblivious and intent on disbelief. It is this unique perspective, this conditional emotional awareness that sublimely defines the film.
Here’s the official synopsis from WB:
George (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar American with a special connection to the afterlife dating from his childhood. French journalist Marie (Cécile de France) has a near-death experience that shakes her reality. And when London schoolboy Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) loses the person closest to him, he desperately needs answers. Each seeking the truth, their lives will intersect, forever changed by what they believe might – or must – exist in the hereafter.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Marthe Keller and Derek Jacobi
Written by: Peter Morgan
Hereafter is an open and honest portrayal of death and the notion of the afterlife. This stands as the first and best quality of Eastwood’s 34th directorial endeavor. Though seemingly reserved in nature, the film surprises with its depth of clarity and detail, akin to the sudden and keen awareness that can only be felt in moments of fathomless grief and pain. While such a topic could easily become ensnared in the religious aspects of the afterlife, Eastwood deftly maneuvers around such sticky trappings. This allows for a clean, undistorted look at final moments in life and the effect those have on the lives surrounding it. Make no mistake, Hereafter will be perceived in only one of two ways: by those who have suffered great loss and those who have only worriedly anticipated it. Either way, the film boldly traverses the journey we all take as life itself takes the reigns from time to time.
The cast is also notable for their realism, their willingness to tread into such dark waters both alone and together. The trained eye will see both minds and hearts turning and twisting as death and the individual hope for something after roils within them without explanation or answers. Matt Damon succeeds in his portrayal of an authentic, beleaguered seer, once famed and sought out by all, who has turned his back on his ability, his perceived curse. Consumed by others’ need for answers and hope, he lacks his own life, his dreams composed solely of those around him, nestled to lonely sleep by the works of Charles Dickens as read by Derek Jacobi.
Cécile de France is exemplary in her role as a woman of fame, fortune, and contentment finding herself questioning everything she knows after suffering a near-death experience. I would not dare spoil the events surrounding that experience, but all should be markedly moved by them.
The young McLaren twins bring the incredible emotional connections developed from being identical twins to their roles. As each boy played each character it is of note that their portrayals were spot on, especially after the character Marcus suffers through the loss of his brother, an experience inexplicably often more intensely traumatizing for twins than other sibling relationships. These three characters move towards each other while caught in the surreal wakes of their ordeals, searching for anything to hold onto, tossed about in seas of grief. I am greatly pleased to say that, either by subject interest or professionalism, not a phoned-in performance was seen, each actor taking the potent material and embracing it without fear or hesitation.
Also of particular note, and one that may surprise viewers, is that Hereafter does not retain many qualities of Eastwood’s previous efforts other than its haunting score, an original composition by the director. Other than such it would be easy to assume the film was absent his direction. With a screenplay by award-winning scribe Peter Morgan, it becomes apparent that Eastwood’s trademark style persists only in pieces that he himself has written, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven, and Gran Torino to name a few. Even so, lacking this, the film is a testament to his genius, personified by the stellar work of his cast and crew.
While nothing definitively negative can be said about Hereafter, I will say that many moments of the film left me teetering on the edge of emotional encapsulation. As an individual who has experienced the gravity of loss, I greatly desired to see the players before me bravely engage the level of emotional depths that one encounters at such times, but it was not to be. While most likely a directorial decision to ensure the script did not turn into a weeping martyr for pain and suffering (maintaining its clean and concise depiction of others grieving), it cannot be denied that the film did not capture the true agony of death.
The raw emotions that escape the body, the convoluted logic, the utter and complete loss of control are all aspects that I longed to see delivered in a tasteful and honest capacity without creative plumbing and projected pain, but had this film rounded that corner I strongly doubt it would be anything like what was intended.
Nonetheless, the film brought me to the edge, allowed me to look, but didn’t dare take the plunge and what is the journey worth if not to achieve the purpose of the destination. While daring to tread in the footsteps of Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under and Anthony Hopkins’ Slipstream, it ultimately takes the safer road and departs with a subtle desire for emotional resolution. But then again, death contends with life in the same manner equally, so this may actually be a success.
Acting: A supremely talented ensemble cast sublimely delivers with bravery and honesty what could have easily been a depressed and melancholy piece bereft of hope.
Directing: For Eastwood, this is par for the course and still leagues ahead of others who have tackled the subject.
Writing: A deft, compelling, but in the end tentative script that brings you to the edge of emotion but fails to take that final leap of faith.
Sound: Eastwood’s haunting and evocative compositions once again bring both energy, harmony, and emotion to the film, lightening dark corridors and balancing the brightest moments.
Visuals: Also par for the course, nothing fancy or original, but well placed and touching. The opening moments surrounding Marie’s near-death experience are deeply real and should affect all who see it.
Though Hereafter is far from original subject material, it is blazingly original in its delivery of it. With strong casts, neither too heavy handed or phoned-in, a subtle and balancing score, well conceived characters, superb cinematography, and honesty throughout. While not as uniquely powerful as his previous endeavors, Hereafter will touch you as uniquely as that final step eventually touches us all.
Hereafter gets an 8.5 out of 10.
Hereafter is available now on Blu-Ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand, and Digital Download. It’s on the store shelves or you can buy it direct from the Warner Bros. Shop.