Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Hereafter
A lot of media outlets have described Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Hereafter as the famed director’s foray into sci-fi drama. It's a clever marketing angle, especially around Halloween, but the assertion is hollow fluff – designed for catchy headlines. If you think Hereafter is a sci-fi movie, you probably missed the film’s most prominent message.
Instead of a Sixth Sense clone, the film is a hard-hitting character drama centered around life’s greatest mystery: death. It does this by offering a variety of perspectives on the subject: a near death experience, a lingering grief, and a complicated “gift.” Even at the age of 80, Eastwood carefully manages three story threads - piecing together a somber but empowering film that finds a solid balance between servicing the characters and the filmmaker’s message.
In case you’ve missed out on the Hereafter marketing blitz, here’s the official synopsis:
“Hereafter tells the story of three people who are haunted by mortality in different ways. Matt Damon stars as George, a blue–collar American who has a special connection to the afterlife. On the other side of the world, Marie (Cécile de France), a French journalist, has a near–death experience that shakes her reality. And when Marcus (Frankie/George McLaren), a London schoolboy, loses the person closest to him, he desperately needs answers. Each on a path in search of the truth, their lives will intersect, forever changed by what they believe might—or must—exist in the hereafter.”
Eastwood has already proven he’s got solid directing chops, but Hereafter may be one of his most ambitious attempts to date. The film ranges in tone from chaos, in the enormous Tsunami opening set-piece, to the shadowed quiet, where George Lonegan (Matt Damon) reluctantly “reads” inquirers. Even the film’s brief “afterlife” snippets, which could have been a disaster, are presented with an appealing approach.
The aforementioned Tsunami sequence is one of the most chilling large-scale action scenes in recent memory – proving that jaw-dropping visual effects can be coupled with great character drama – and don’t always have to rely on 3D space aliens or CGI robots to keep an audience invested.
While the bar is set exceptionally high right out of the gate, the film rarely disappoints, providing one captivating (though dreary) scene after another – most notably a charming moment between George and Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Chef Carlo’s cooking class. This scene, as well as numerous others, is indicative of a harmony that audiences don’t often get to see in modern films – where the writer, the director, and the cast, each bring their A-game to the final product.
In addition to his work behind the lens, Eastwood deserves credit for bringing together a talented cast that spans the gamut in age and nationalities. Though the film takes modern psychics to task, Damon finds legitimacy with the audience through his convincing depiction of George’s struggle. It’s not just that he refuses to profit from his talent, or that he can actually listen to the dead, it is George’s selfish reluctance that makes him come alive. Damon handles these scenes with the same kind of concentration that he brought to Invictus and The Departed.
In addition, Belgian actress, Cécile de France, is great as Marie LeLay who, prior to her near-death experience in Thailand, was a tough political commentator. Hereafter tracks LeLay through a journey of self-discovery – as well as a compulsion to seek out the truth of her experience. The third principal lead, Marcus, is played by a pair of childhood actor brothers, Frankie and George McLaren. The pair is responsible for a few stiff performance moments, especially at a drug store early in the film, but overall they deliver - providing complicated emotions to a character that is extremely buttoned-up.
The Hereafter story handles its heavy subject matter with grace. The film manages to carefully balance the plot between humanity’s obsession with death (and as a result, our grief) with what it means to live (and move forward). Each of the three primary characters discovers that there is no easy answer – but that doesn’t mean there is no hope of comfort.
That said, there are a few glaring areas in the film where the filmmakers, themselves, clearly relied on easy answers. Refraining from specifics, the last 30 minutes of the movie mostly let go of the character-driven film focus and begin to transfer control to the “plot.” It’s not that the last 30 minutes can’t be explained, or aren’t charming in the moment, but they rely on an overarching sense of providence that isn’t present in the rest of the film. It’s as if Eastwood felt that all the pieces needed to come together – even though the majority of the film is spent showcasing that life, and also death, is an unpredictable experience.
This is not to say that the end of the film can’t still be powerful, or doesn’t serve as an adequate conclusion to prior events - it’s just a very simple solution to a film that’s built on an extremely complicated, and as a result, fascinating, foundation.
However, despite the somewhat simple ending, audiences will leave Hereafter with a similar understanding of what Eastwood is trying to communicate about death - as Damon asserts in the trailer, “If you’re worried about being on your own, don’t be – you’re not.”
While Hereafter is not the sci-fi drama that some moviegoers might have been led to believe it is, the film is a terrific character drama that directly addresses one of humanity’s most enduring mysteries.
Watch the trailer below to help you make up your mind:
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