Hereafter (2010) Directed by Clint Eastwood
Oh dear, where are we with Clint Eastwood in 2012? How can such an abashed fan as myself adapt to the fact that perhaps age is finally catching up on Mr Eastwood and his recent films haven't been up to much. It's been a bumpy ride since his last all around masterpiece, Letters From Iwo Jima in 2006. We've had the Angelina Jolie vehicle The Changeling which had moments of brilliance in a barely disguised love letter from director to star. We've had possibly the last great Eastwood acting performance in the otherwise overrated Gran Torino (although it seems Clint is acting again). Invictus I've not seen (it has few admirers) and last years J Edgar was very good – although no one else seems to have rated it much. But the Eastwood film that has had the most scorn pored upon it in recent times is Hereafter. Eastwood discusses the possibility of life after death in a slow ensemble piece with three different story lines, in three different countries, with two different languages and Matt Damon.
Lets get this out of the way first. The opening scene in Hereafter is the work of a master director. Eastwood re-stages the Thailand Tsunami from 2004. It's as breathtaking a piece of cinema as I've seen in a long time. You could say that Hearafter never quite recovers from such a powerful beginning. But, in its own quiet and dignified way it matches that scene almost throughout. Hereafter essentially deals with the effect that death has on the living. There is Marie (Cécile De France), the journalist who survives the tsunami and on her return to her native France re-evaluates her whole life after her ordeal. There is the London child Marcus having to deal with the death of his twin brother whilst being taken into social care because of his single mother's substance abuse problem. The main thrust of Hereafter deals with Matt Damon's psychic George, who has a gift of being able to reach the dead on physical contact with anyone. But George sees his gift as a curse that has ruined any possible meaningful relationship in his life.
At times it feels like Hereafter may turn into some kind of slow burning sci-fi thriller, but it never happens. Eastwood makes sure the focus is on character. Damon is excellent, especially in his scenes with an under-used Bryce Dallas Howard. There is a weird but real chemistry going on between the two. The English story comes across as a bit cliched and here the acting of the young twins (both played by real life twins George & Frankie) is poor. The French scenes work fine. The coming together of all three story strands at a London book fair seems convenient. Otherwise, Eastwood expertly directs, in a very uncommercial way. This picture puts the emotions to the fore. Hereafter is no classic, but I have a feeling that people will discover this film in the years to come. If you give this a chance, prepare to find yourself in a very slow manner, to be moved by Hereafter.
Clint Eastwood has always been a good sentimentalist. He is truly a director who knows how to make everyone cry. It's a talent, because a lot of Hollywood films are sentimental without a real sense of emotion needed to turn on the tears (for example Forrest Gump). Hereafter goes overboard with the tears. From the first minutes on I was permanently wiping my face and holding back a huge breakdown of sadness. Hereafter is a movie about death and how we deal with it – how badly we deal with it – since we don't want to at all, do we? That's why the film got generally bad reviews and nobody wanted to see it thereafter...
Until this point in my life I have been rather calm about the idea of death. I have accepted it and felt that it's not the end of everything so why not enjoy what we have here and trust in the hereafter – whatever it may be. My attitude has been greatly shaken and questioned through the birth of my child. Now death is a scary thought and I'd rather not think about it in any sense to be honest. The fragility and shortness of life has become a reality in a way previously unimaginable to me. Thus, Hereafter the film was like salt on fresh wounds. Unbelievably heavy and draining. It made me check on my sleeping son every three minutes.
It's not a bad movie, although in many ways it's not the best Eastwood has made (and not very much his style cinematically). There are too many stories, which makes the film a little like Love Actually (without the lightness), and there is maybe too little time spent on resolving things. Thankfully, there is not too much dwelling on trying to make sense of what happens after death – usually films become ridiculous when they attempt to appease us with clearing the mystery up.
I salute the aging horse rider for making this movie and coming out of it with my respect. He made me uncomfortable once again – thank you Clint.