By Brian Lafferty
October 23, 2010 (San Diego)--After the hilarious yet powerfully dramatic and tragic Gran Torino and the rousing Invictus, director Clint Eastwood has followed up with the somber and sedate Hereafter, which presented a challenge for my attention span. The movie opens with a spectacular tsunami that nearly takes the life of French journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile De France). For the first hour after this sequence I started getting a little restless, feeling that the film wasn’t delivering anything close to the level of the opening action. But that changed over the next hour and I began to fully appreciate it. It doesn’t rank among Eastwood’s best directorial efforts but it is a good movie that doesn’t have a lot to say about its subject matter but is interesting if you’re willing to listen.
Hereafter is composed of three stories of how death affects several people in different ways. De France becomes obsessed with the afterlife, which she believes she briefly experienced after nearly drowning. This experience affects her deeply, which eventually costs herself her job and seriously endangers her credibility as a reporter. Matt Damon plays a San Franciscan psychic who can communicate with the dead. He believes it isn’t a gift but a curse. The third is set in England, where a young boy (Franklie McLaren) with an alcoholic mother who loses his brother (also played by McLaren) in a brutal car accident. He is plagued with grief and wants to talk to his brother, who he was close to.
This is one of those movies that grew on me. I wasn’t impressed with it at first because I was looking at a film that should have been more. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting an atmosphere along the lines of his last two movies. But after all the characters were introduced and settled in, the movie began to work its magic on me.
So what happened? The answer is simple: Hereafter isn’t boring. The characters are interesting and strongly written. The performances are first-rate, which is a something that can be easily overlooked because the acting seems so low-key. It was a matter of time before I began to care deeply about these characters.
For instance, I understood why Damon considers his abilities a curse. At one point his partner in cooking school (Bryce Dallas Howard) asks him to give her a reading. But when he learns of a troubling secret about her father she leaves, cries and a potential romance is gone. Because the movie spends a lot of time with these two characters and because it lets them get to know each other (and us them) we feel the pain along with him.
Hereafter is a challenging film but we do get rewarded for our efforts. Sometimes it’s risky to write movies like this because every plot needs to be as good and as engaging as the others. Morgan has crafted a smart and involving script that has three interesting and subtly powerful stories that he and Eastwood can cut to without having us wait impatiently for a better one.
NOTE: For a better film about death and the afterlife, and if you are eighteen and older, I strongly recommend you see Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which plays through Thursday at the Ken Cinema. It is one of the best films of the year. It’s aggressively provocative and definitely not for the squeamish, to say the very least, but it is more rewarding and unforgettable than Hereafter.