Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Matt Damon, Frankie & George McLaren, Cecile De France
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.
“Hereafter” is one of those films that is essentially impossible to make an accurate trailer for. It isn’t particularly suspenseful, or at least, not in an overarching way; it has some very intense scenes, but is mostly a quiet film; and it doesn’t have a straightforward plotline to lay out for viewers. It’s a pity that previews can’t just say “this is a complicated character study, see it if you like that kind of thing.”
The film centers around three people whose lives have been changed by death. George (Matt Damon) has the ability to speak to the dead, but longs for a normal life and has given up doing readings in favor of a blue-collar existence. Twins Marcus and Jason (Frankie & George McLaren) are separated when Jason is killed in a car accident, leaving the quiet Marcus on his own. Famous French journalist Marie (Cecile De France) is very nearly killed by a tsunami while on vacation, and returns from her near-death experience a changed woman.
As the film progresses, we get to know them, and see how their contacts with death and dying shape their lives. We watch as George tries to have a normal courtship with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a sweet gal from his cooking class. It’s hard to date, though, when it’s so easy for him to uncover anyone’s darkest secrets. Marie finds that nobody takes near-death experiences seriously, even when the person talking about them is a renowned journalist. Marcus keeps trying to find a psychic who can put him in touch with his brother, and watching him realize that one after another are fakes is heartbreaking. Although each of them live son a different continent, we watch as their paths slowly but inevitably converge.
This is not a thrill-a-minute film, nor is it a creepy ghost story. It’s more a meditation on how death and life affect one another. Eastwood is, for the most part, a magnificent director, and he has a light touch here, with a subject that invites heavy-handedness. The script has frequent stretches with little dialogue, or with little dialogue that has anything to do with the point of the scene, and the various players are each able to inhabit their characters so fully that we can still get to know them through just their expressions.
Toward the end of the film, Eastwood’s fondness for symbolism becomes a little too obvious — anyone who saw “Gran Torino” will know what I mean, as it had the same issue — but with that exception, “Hereafter” is a quiet, thoughtful character study. There are a few scenes that are quite intense; but then, it’s hard to really show how traumatic events affect someone without giving the audience at least a glimpse into them. Eastwood walks the line between sensationalism and prudery deftly, and the scenes linger in our minds, echoing the way they shape the characters so powerfully.
“Hereafter” is not for people who demand exciting movies. It’s not a big Hollywood blockbuster, with grand monologues or car chases. It’s thoughtful, careful, and a little slow. It is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but if it’s yours, you will love it.