Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, October 22nd, 2010, Rated PG-13
Run Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Thierry Neuvic, George/Frankie McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Gran Turismo, Invictus)
How Clint Eastwood continues his incredible pace of directing movies is beyond me. Many of his recent movies have been critical darlings, but on a personal level, only Mystic River and Gran Turismo stand out as great movies. His latest film, "Hereafter" is not quite a great movie, but I had an odd reaction while watching and afterwards...the movie itself is a slow, borderline sleepy movie, that somehow towards the end was very satisfying to me. I can see the film receiving mixed reactions, and I truly think that only someone with Eastwood's clout could get a movie such as this made. A strange film that seems to be focused on the afterlife, but is much more interested in the here and now, rather then the hereafter.
Plot. "Hereafter" tells 3 different stories, of 3 characters who all have had their own personal experiences with death, or what comes after. First, a beautiful french woman named Marie (De France) flatlines for a few moments after being a victim of a tsunami. She experiences...visions, and feelings, before being revived. She is a successful reporter and author and her near-death experience threatens to ruin her credibility and personal life, as it over-runs her daily thoughts. The second is a young lad named Malcolm, the quieter of two London schoolboys, who's twin brother is tragically killed in a car accident. Other than actually experiencing death yourself (like Marie), having someone that close to you ripped away is about the closest thing to death us living humans can experience. Lastly we have George (Damon), who has a special gift...or is it a curse?...he is a psychic who can touch your hands, allowing him to be able to communicate with your lost loved ones. He once did this for a living, but it prevented him from living a normal life.
In what is becoming a popular storytelling trend, the 3 characters' stories cut back and forth, with us the viewer not really knowing what the connection is. This worked in films like "Babel" and fell short in film's like "Brooklyn's Finest." What's interesting with "Hereafter" is that these characters are all connected with the common thread of being alive...we all are connected and must face the "hereafter" eventually. They all differenlty approach and encounter not only their brushes with the afterlife, but how these brushes effect their lives. Towards the end, the characters do cross-paths, in a very contrived way mind you, but in a way that is at least believable within the framework of the film.
A near-sleep experience. Matt Damon's George character is by far the most interesting, both in performance and in story. The film really struggles in the early portions...after a CG tsunami sequence opens the movie, it grinds to a startling halt. Many moviegoers I saw the film with seemed to check out of the movie during the first hour...it's that slow, with no apparent direction. But for those that stick with it, there are some rewards in the second half.
Damon is great. It helps that all 3 of the main characters (Damon, De France, and the McLaren twins) are very good, and in Damon's case, incredible. I often rant and rave about certain actors being at the top of their game, but this performance here is one of Damon's best. Eastwood directed him to an Oscar nomination last year for Invictus, and I would almost certainly stick my neck out and say that he deserves another one here. Cecille De France is very good but isn't given much range of emotion, but she is certainly an actress to follow and keep an eye on. Also, there is a juicy supporting performance by Bryce Dallas Howard that also deserves attention.
The After-glow. Oddly, the movie seems to want to question "what happens when you die?" but we of course don't get any answers because none of us really know. The movie really deals with perception and to me it was very rewarding to see how the characters' lives are effected by what they go through. Marie is so consumed with what she saw that her everyday news topics she reports on are no longer interesting. She also learns a lot about herself and her position in life, as her perspective changes from "on top of the world" to "outside the bubble." Damon's perspective of his own talents are that it's a curse, this of course is because nothing good ever came from his unique abilities...that is, until he finds someone who understands what it's like to be on the outside. For young Malcolm, we see the grieving process move from utter sadness and loss of hope, to that of inner strength and closure.
Why it works. "Hereafter" worked for me because it is a movie about life, set against the backdrop of death. It doesn't quite penetrate the soul, and is so slowly-paced that it may not be right for some audience members. But the subject matter was very relatable to me, and I found it oddly fascinating how they are all dealing with facets of the same issue...that yes, death is inevitable for us all. It's just up to us to decide whether our lives are a gift, or a curse. Don't go looking for answers in "Hereafter", because there are none there to find.
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