Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Hereafter grabs you right out of the gate, beginning with an impressively filmed sequence depicting the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. It’s startling not just because of its suddenness and immensity but because it’s something that’s so far out of director’s Clint Eastwood’s comfort zone.
Soon enough the remainder of the film settles into that subtle grounded atmosphere that Eastwood is celebrated for - so it’s a little ironic it was only that opening scene that left any sort of impression at all. Once the meat is chewed upon, Hereafter sags into prosaic sentimentality. Who knew a movie about death could be so lifeless?
Written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and helmed by Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River), producer Steven Spielberg seemed to have put together a dream pairing for a weighty dramatic exploration to life’s greatest mystery – what happens after we die? The finished product seems less profound and more insipid ghost story, entirely unbefitting of its pedigree.
The plot concerns the intertwining lives of three separate characters, each unable to continue with their normal day-to-day existence after becoming irreparably affected by their knowledge of an afterlife. It follows the structure and style of Alejandro González Inárritu's Babeljust with the added spice of the supernatural as its thematic thread.
French investigative journalist Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) is a driven and famous political broadcast reporter (shades of Christiane Amanpour) who survives the aforementioned tsunami while vacationing in a beachside village. Her peek into the afterlife during her near-death drowning leaves her obsessed, something that destroys her professional credibility.
Meanwhile George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar worker in San Francisco who just so happens to be a former famous psychic. While his ability to communicate with the dead is legitimate and could earn him a lot of money, George refuses to do readings anymore because of the toll it takes on his personal life.
Whenever he touches a subject, he is visited by the spirits of those the subject is grieving for. This makes regular social interaction, such as making a move on a cute girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) in cooking class (taught by Steven R. Schirripa, better known as The Sopranos’ Bobby Bacala) understandably difficult.
Occurring simultaneously to these two stories is the tale of London-based 12-year-old Marcus (wonderfully played by Frankie and George McLaren) who is desperately trying to make contact with his recently deceased twin brother. As his junkie mother checks into rehab, Marcus spends the following year being duped by a string of phony mediums exploiting his grief.
The three characters are clumsily interwoven during the climax in a manner that is so perfunctory and heavy-handed that it feels downright anti-climatic. Up until then, we’re treated to the quiet and often-times wonderfully acted narratives of three distinct principals, each dealing with death in very realistic ways. Such earnestness is appreciated and sometimes even beautiful. But on the flip side, some of it is just plain Hallmark movie hokey.
The glimpses of the afterlife here (shadowy figures softly backlit by white light) look as cheesy as those Discovery Channel documentaries about the great beyond and much of the characters’ emotional resolutions come too conveniently. So while Eastwood’s dedication to patient storytelling is admirable, one just wishes the story itself was worthier of its audience’s patience.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini is 24-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.