Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter

Despite the title, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter has less to do with what happens when we die and more to do with how we spend the time we have to live. Death and the mysteries of the afterlife loom over the film like a shadow, but ultimately it’s the preciousness they lend each living moment that counts. It’s a simple message delivered in a compact, easygoing way that perhaps only Eastwood could manage. A more flowery and less direct touch would’ve risked melodrama, but the unassuming Eastwood never loses sight of the quiet, leisurely-paced power of his story.

Hereafter is three separate stories, really. Cécile de France is Marie, a French woman whose life is changed by a near death experience; Frankie McLaren is Marcus, a little boy who loses his twin brother; and Matt Damon is George, an American who believes a childhood brain illness has left him with the ability to communicate with the recently deceased. They’re three different people living in different parts of the world united by the isolation they feel because of their unique circumstances. Each story could stand on its own as a short, but as the film shifts focus from one to the next, the threads of all three draw closer and closer together. Ultimately screenwriter Peter Morgan’s narrative relies a little too much on coincidence for comfort, but the story beats here are just a means to an end. Eastwood’s real interest is in the moods and emotions those beats provoke.

Hereafter is infused with a sense of melancholy, of loss and the idea that most of us are ultimately alone in our pain. In front of us is the glimmer of hope that we might find someone with whom to share our joys and sorrows, and behind us somewhere in the dark is death, quietly drawing closer. With the story’s simplicity, Eastwood’s occasionally thick-fingered directorial hand works to the film’s benefit. It’s easy to imagine Steven Spielberg (who is one of the film’s executive producers) tarting the story up with a lot of special effects and sweeping, John Williams-enhanced sentiment, but from his direction of the actors to the simple guitar-based score which he composed himself, Eastwood’s evenhanded, less-is-more approach gives Hereafter a sturdiness without overwhelming its essential delicacy.

To that end, he is aided by a great cast, especially Matt Damon who is once again terrific. He completely grounds George so you easily forget he is able to see visions of the afterlife. When the story reminds you, it makes George’s desperation to be normal all the more powerful and magnifies his sense of aloneness. Damon is also expert at conveying a subtle, sly humor.

In one of the film’s best scenes, Damon meets Bryce Dallas Howard at a cooking class where they participate in a blind tasting as an exercise. There’s an incredible sensuality to the scene and the attraction between the two is palpable, but in Damon there is a subtle hesitation. He’s excited, but deep down he knows if Howard finds out what he is, it will be the beginning of the end for them. It’s an almost universal feeling, but here it’s amplified and Damon plays it just right.

Hereafter is filled with such great individual moments. There’s another at the beginning involving a devastating natural disaster. Though the effects are obviously CGI, they’re enough to convey the dawning horror of a situation that at first seems incredible and then suddenly becomes all too real. The scene manages to be epic in scope without ever losing the intimate human focus that will drive the rest of the film. It’s a tightrope walk that Eastwood deftly manages throughout.

That’s not to say the film is flawless. Besides the reliance on coincidence, there are also a few key moments where the director typically can’t resist overemphasizing a feeling or idea. One is a voiceover of Damon reading a letter to his brother that is way too direct and repeats a key line that had originally been subtler. Another occurs near the end when Eastwood’s peaceful guitar score gives way to a swelling orchestra that is much more than the scene needs to convey the emotion it contains. He’s playing to the cheap seats and it’s too bad because his movie is better than that.

Ultimately, Hereafter is a strange animal and difficult to fit into a descriptive box. Eastwood seems at first an odd choice for a human drama tinged with the supernatural, but that element of the unknown and unexplained seeps into a number of his pictures from High Plains Drifter,to Tightrope to Pale Rider and Mystic River. He’s really perfect for the material and it displays a softer, more contemplative side of him than we might expect from his laconic, stiff-lipped screen image. While Hereafter may not be a perfect film, it is always interesting and finally proves to be both lovely and moving.

Hereafter. USA 2010. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay by Peter Morgan. Cinematography by Tom Stern. Edited by Joel Cox and Gary Roach. Music score composed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Matt Damon, Cecil de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Lyndsey Marshal, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Kind and Steven R. Schirripa. 2 hours 6 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language. 4 stars (out of 5)

6 Responses to “Hereafter (2010)”

  1. that good huh? I mean, compared to Gran Torino, Changeling and Invictus… Just read the first paragraph of the review not to spoil much, but it’s good to know that it’s not much about “the dead” because the trailer did give me a lot of “sixth sense” vibes.

  2. It was far from perfect, but it grabbed me. There are supernatural elements, but to me it’s all just background to the characters and feelings.

  3. A most admirable, articulate and well-reasoned review from top to bottom, Craig, but I’m afraid I found it dreadfully dry. It would be the equivalent of making a film entitled Playing Marbles and having that film be a 130-minute picture depicting three different people–a once-renowned master marble player who’s now retired and refuses to play any longer, a child who wishes to learn how to play and goes online to discover how and a lady journalist who’s become obsessed with playing marbles and wishes to write a book about it–all talk about it in their own stages of their fascination with or weariness from the act of playing a game of marbles.

    It just never added up to very much to me. I can see now why so many “hyperlink” pictures are given a self-contained sense of perpetual urgency, as a wandering effort such as Eastwood’s latest leaves quite a few viewers restless. It certainly did in my case.

    However, it was well-acted by everyone. Matt Damon was a good choice for his role; I found Bryce Dallas Howard quite powerful and utterly convincing in her brief but vital role.

  4. I won’t pretend Hereafter didn’t have some significant problems, but somehow it worked on me. I think partly I went into it expecting a disaster (and I don’t mean a tsunami) because reviews out of Toronto were so terrible, but I found it quietly affecting.

    Not one for the end of year top 10, but better than anything Eastwood has done since Iwo Jima, not that that’s saying much.

  5. “I think partly I went into it expecting a disaster (and I don’t mean a tsunami)…”

    Hahaha. Thank you for the response, Craig. Ultimately, as with any film, if it worked for you that is what counts.

  6. That’s what counts, but it’s also important to be able to articulate why or why not. Not sure I succeeded in this case.

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