Review: Eastwood's Hereafter Goes Through the Boring Motions
by Jeremy Kirk
October 22, 2010
I imagine an elderly gentleman walking down a gray sidewalk, arms resting at his sides, as he walks one small step after one small step. He moves slow. His aged bones allow him to move only so fast. You can't determine his destination, the place where he's taking so long to finally end up. But you do know it's taking him so long to get there that you go on about your business, almost uncaring of the location of point B.
And that is what I imagine when I think of Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, a film about the afterlife and about people who question what comes next after we die. Told over three stories that are unrelated at first, the film takes its time getting to point B, as well, the overall point, really, of the film. Its tedious and meandering scenes offer very little insight into what Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan were aiming for. What we can gleam from the film, though, is that once we do realize where the film is headed, we uncover a truth about Hereafter that is almost as sad as that old man walking down the sidewalk. There is no point.
Hereafter opens with Cécile de France playing Marie, a French journalist on vacation with her lover/producer. In the film's opening and rather harrowing 20 minutes, we watch as a tsunami hits the coastal town where they are staying. Marie is caught in the ensuing rush of water, something that she does not live through. As she lays dead on a rooftop where a few rescuers have taken her, she sees images, flushed out in black and white, of dark figures standing against a bright white background. Marie comes to alive and well, but the images she has seen causes her to make the topic of the afterlife her new obsession.
We then move to San Francisco where Matt Damon's character, George, does a psychic reading for a friend of his brother's. George, with the touch of your hand, is able to sense and communicate with those you have lost. He is a genuine psychic, but it is a gift that he sees as a curse. Despite his brother's egging on, George pushes his powers deep within himself, trying to go about his day with some sense of normalcy.
The third story involves twin brothers in the United Kingdom. Marcus and Jason, played by Frankie and George McLaren, care for each other. They have to, as their mother is a druggie and alcoholic. When child protective services come to check on them, they prepare their mother for her, and do everything in their power to hold the family together the only way they know how. However, when a car accident kills Jason, Marcus makes it his passion to see to it that his brother has gone on to something better.
And those are the general premises of the three stories here. Unfortunately, Eastwood and editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach seem a sense of urgency is never necessary in telling any of these stories or in cutting between them. We rest on one particular story for ample amounts of time, completely shutting the other two out of our sight and mind. When we finally do cut to the next one, it almost feels jarring, as if in all the dilatory time we spend with each character we still don't get a sense of direction or meaning.
This is, unfortunately, something Eastwood has been accused of before. With 2006's Flags of our Fathers, he took a rather interesting story and created a ponderous film that said what it had to say and then said it again and again and again. He does the same in Hereafter particularly with Damon's George. We understand right from the first scene with George he does not like using his gifts. He flat out tells the character of his brother's friend, played by Richard Kind, "I don't even do this any more." The necessity to have it explained to us again and again is never explained. It isn't necessary, and, by the time he finally does move on to the next part of his story, one that ultimately leads to the culmination of the film, we have generally stopped caring.
The same can be said for de France and McLaren's characters. We understand that Marie is obsessed with the afterlife. We know that it is going to lead to her doing a project that involves this topic. Why we need to observe her research on the project, for lack of a better term, is anyone's guess. Marcus, having lost his brother and, ultimately, his mother, lives with foster parents, but he skulks around the city streets wearing his brother's baseball cap, an aspect of his character that actually leads to one of the film's only real startling moments. The opening tsunami is another of these moments, even though the CG that creates it seems half realized much of the time.
Those moments aside, Hereafter moves at a snail's pace, but, fortunately, Eastwood's visual eye, as well as that of cinematographer Tom Stern, still has merit. The three, differing stories each have their own look, but it, unlike the stories, are never a jarring transition from one to the other. Without a certain level of analysis, you might not even be able to determine the difference in appearance, but it's there from the all but gray look of Marcus' story to the slightly brighter world Marie lives in.
The acting from Damon and de France are commendable at best, always seeming to connect with their respective characters, but any idea of nuance seems to have been scrapped along with the rest of the film. Child actors are generally hard to watch. Only a few instances now and again are really worth mentioning, so the less said about either McLaren brother the better. Everyone else on screen seems to be sleepwalking through their parts with the exception of Bryce Dallas Howard, who turns in a good performance for a character who is extremely hard to sympathize with.
But maybe Hereafter is all about the sleepwalking, going through the motions of an adult drama without very little to say. What it does say, it reiterates ad nauseum, and what it actually has to say is nothing fresh or interestingly conveyed. It's the Eastwood we've come to know in recent years, choosing to make the cut that reveals Hereafter's meaning with a chainsaw rather than a surgical knife. The only thing we can do when we finally see where the elderly man is headed is shrug our shoulders and hope he gets there on his own. We simply don't have the patience to watch the journey from beginning to end any more. Maybe the beings we see in Hereafter's afterlife sequences aren't dead. Maybe they're just sleeping.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10