Here are two facts:
1. Clint Eastwood is a great director. One of the best ever.
2. Matt Damon is an impressive actor.
Based on these two facts, it would stand to reason the two of them put together would make some pretty amazing pieces of cinema. And yet their first outing together, Invictus, never managed to actually take off despite its impressive story and cast. The film hung in a strange no man’s land, where you could easily see the talent and skill employed in the making of it, and could tell it should be great, and yet it was simply good.
The pairs has managed to pull off this feat yet again with Eastwood’s newest offering, Hereafter, a movie screaming out to be great, but once again falling into an odd quagmire of goodness.
To be fair, it’s far easier to see how Hereafter didn’t live up to its pedigree than it is to see how Invictus did. The latter was a sports movie, based on an emotional true story and a man who is respected as a hero around the world, the former is about death. More specifically a man who can talk to the dead and is now a retired psychic trying to have a normal life, George Lonegan (Matt Damon); a woman who dies during the tsunami in the Philippines and then comes back from the dead, Marie Lelay (Cecile de France); and a twin whose brother dies in a car accident, Marcus (George/Frankie McLaren). In the way films about “life” often do, their three stories start on opposite ends of the world and eventually meet in a strange coincidence of faith or luck for a solid life lesson about death.
Well, actually that’s not entirely true. While the three stories are on an intertwining path of destiny there doesn’t seem to ever be a message. Eastwood is taking on a subject as immense as life and death, but by the time the film ends you don’t really feel like you went anywhere. The film is a long, slow build, which can be wonderful if the build ever leads anywhere, but it simply doesn’t. A slow burn is only rewarding if there is a metaphorical explosion at the end. Hereafter begins slow and ends slow and it seems that nothing happens in between to give the movie a point.
It should be pointed out that since the film is clearly a meditation on death, and often veers a bit towards art house, maybe the lack of a point is the overall message we’re supposed to take away from it. By the end of the film we don’t understand or know anything more about life or death, we’ve simply seen three people who are incredibly close to death and their experiences as their lives eventually intersect with each. The entire film seems to lack any initiative for something to happen. You’re never wondering what will come next because it’s entirely unclear what will come next. The answer to what death is is never given and eventually flat out denied. As a statement about what we know about what comes after we die Hereafter might be a resounding success, but as a great film it simply falls short.
However, it is still a good film. There’s no way to deny that Eastwood is a master behind the camera, and despite the wandering nature of the film he works the audience magnificently throughout. He takes what could be entirely bland scenes (Lonegan’s readings for instance) and turns them into interesting moments replete with emotion. Eastwood is also aided easily by a strong performance from Damon and de France, the latter of which gets to spend a large chunk of the film thankfully speaking in her native tongue. The twins don’t fair quite as well, with uneven performances that shift from scene to scene. Evidently one brother is a better actor than the other. Unfortunately, this well acted and richly directed film, which burns so slowly, simply never fulfills on any of its promises.
What Eastwood has done is once again proven that he’s immensely talented at making movies, but not everyone can be a home run. If you’re in the mood to be led along for a bit with no real payoff then Hereafter is a great film to go to, but even as a philosophical look at death it seems to fail because it doesn’t actually raise any discussions about the subject. Instead Hereafter is content to sit back and do nothing – a smart, well directed, well acted nothing.
Hereafter is painfully decent. More of an introspective on death that leads to no conclusions or anwers than an entertaining movie, it still features some fantastic acting and directing.