As a director, Clint Eastwood has made westerns, crime thrillers, character based dramas, war movies and true to life biographies but one thing he has never done is something more fantastical, until now that is. With a distinctly supernatural theme, fantasy drama Hereafter really is brand new territory for the director.
On paper it is a film that sounds like a recipe for success – it adopts a similar we-are-all-connected story formula to excellent films such as Crash and Babel, director Clint Eastwood has lately been churning out one great film after another – Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino and Invictus – writer Peter Morgan has written such acclaimed films as The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Frost/Nixon and The Damned United and star Matt Damon is perhaps one of the best actors working in Hollywood today, if not one of the more bankable ones. Yet, despite all these things, the film’s reception on its release in the states last year was lukewarm, both critically and commercially speaking. Why was this the case, you might be wondering? The obvious person to put the blame for the film’s failings on would be star Matt Damon who, as a result of choosing interesting but commercially unappealing films to star in recently, hasn’t been attracting the kind of audiences he did when he was starring in the Bourne movies. While this might account for the film’s underwhelming box office performance in the states (as well as that of Invictus which also failed to make much of an impression commercially even though it did receive a far more favourable response from critics), however, it certainly doesn’t account for why the response from critics in the states was merely average. Perhaps it could be that, given the fact that the supernatural nature of this film is new territory for Eastwood, his lack of experience in making this kind of film shows through – Hereafter is far from his best work.
In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a seemingly ordinary guy who is trying to escape from his past. He has a special gift that allows him to communicate with the dead but he views it more as a curse and is reluctant to exploit the ability despite pressure from his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) to do so. Yet the call of his ability is impossible to avoid and even after a potential relationship with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) is ruined by it he still finds himself unable to escape. In Paris, French journalist Marie LeLay (Cécile De France) has recently returned home from Indonesia where she was a victim of the tsunami that hit in 2004. She has had a near death experience which as given her a glimpse of what lies after death and since then she has developed a completely new outlook on the world and has become obsessed with revealing what lies beyond death, an obsession that has cost her credibility and alienated her from her partner Didier (Thierry Neuvic). In London, Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren) are the identical twin children of drug addict mother Jackie (Lyndsey Marshal). When Jason is killed after being hit by a car, Marcus’ entire world begins to fall apart as he is taken away from his mother and placed in foster care where he begins to develop an obsession with contacting his dead brother. These three people from different parts of the world find themselves crossing paths with one another as their encounters with death shape and define their lives.
Coming off excellent efforts likes Gran Torino and Invictus, there was always a strong likelihood that Hereafter would turn out to be a bit of a letdown for director Clint Eastwood by comparison. But this film isn’t simply a letdown, it is a huge letdown, easily being Eastwood’s weakest film since 2002’s Blood Work and a film that is so underwhelming as to make it hard to believe that Eastwood (or indeed writer Peter Morgan) even had anything to do with it. This is not the fault of the film’s cast although largely the acting here is merely decent rather than sensational, Damon turning in his typical strong performance but failing to go the extra mile as a man struggling to cope with an overwhelming burden, Cécile De France being equally as proficient as a woman viewing the world in a different light following a glimpse of the other side and Bryce Dallas Howard also being decent in her rather small role while Frankie and George McLaren fail to impress with their blank and expressionless performances and a cameo appearance by Derek Jacobi doing a reading from Charles Dickens seems pointless (much like his recent desecration of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in order to sell Sony products). The fault also cannot be placed on the core concept of the film. A study of death on the big screen is certainly something that has the potential to be very poignant and the film does deal with some very interesting themes but it fails to be nearly interesting enough in the way it deals with them, the story completely failing to compel us as viewers. Entire scenes feel dragged out far beyond what is necessary of them, lacking dramatic tension of any kind and being so painfully slow paced as to bore you to the point of tedium. The film also frequently proves extremely depressing, something that is not helped by the depiction of real life disasters and tragedies (incorporating real life events into the story despite the fact that the film is not based on or inspired by any real life events) such as the Asian Tsunami and the 7/7 Bombings. The inclusion of these events ultimately seems manipulative and frankly unnecessary given that the film is supposed to be fictional (fictional disasters could just as easily have taken the place of real ones) and the 7/7 Bombings, in particular, serve absolutely no purpose in the story whatsoever, making the inclusion of it completely pointless (whereas the Asian Tsunami scene at least establishes one of the film’s main characters). In many ways this is all symptomatic of weak writing and other such symptoms are present in the form of unmemorable dialogue, unengaging conversations between characters and very poor plotting. With multiple character arcs intersecting with one another, there really needs to be a strong link to bring all the threads together, even if it does only come into to play in the final act (case in point, Babel) but her when all the characters finally cross paths, events converging on London, the manner in which they do so is so flimsy and half baked as to virtually make a mockery of the whole film up to this point. The film is not without its redeeming features, however, boasting some decent cinematography and editing and a truly spectacular opening sequence detailing the events of the Asian Tsunami. Boasting some truly incredible visual effects – for which the film has received its one and only Oscar nomination – this sequence is executed superbly and really is quite harrowing to witness. Were this scene at the end of the film it might have at least ended it with a bang (as opposed to the whimper it actually goes out on) but at the start of the film it simply makes for an explosive start that really doesn’t make the rest of the film worth sitting through. Hereafter is so slow moving that you might actually find yourself wishing for quick death. There again, perhaps it’s somewhat appropriate that a film about death be so lifeless.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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