Judge Steve Power used to talk to dead people, until the cops told him to stop hanging out in graveyards.
Can we reach those who have gone?
After a successful collaboration in 2009 with Invictus, director, and American institution Clint Eastwood re-teams with star Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) for Hereafter, a somber meditation on lives touched by death, and what awaits us in the world hereafter.
Facts of the Case
George (Matt Damon) is a psychic, in the prime of his career he was marketed as "the man who can speak to the dead," he had his own website, there was a book written about him, and he was living high on the hog until the emotional burden of his abilities was just too much for him to cope with.
Marie (Cecile De France, High Tension) is a French news personality coping with the intense emotional feelings brought on by a near death experience which occurs in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami. Her experience inspires her to write a book on the subject of the hereafter, which alienates her further from her lover and producer.
Marcus and Jason (newcomers Frankie and George McLaren) are 22-year-old twin brothers living in London. When Jason meets a sudden and tragic end, Marcus must struggle through a life of foster parents and the lingering memories of his departed brother. Burdened with a sense of responsibility, he just wants to talk to his brother one last time.
In a lesser director's hands, Hereafter would have been one of two things, a cheesy supernatural thriller with an unremarkable twist ending, or a sappy melodrama that only a mother could love. Clint Eastwood takes an intriguing premise—is there an afterlife?—and throws three interesting characters, each tortured in different ways by the thought of life after death, into the mix.
In Eastwood's hands, Hereafter becomes a refreshingly adult take on the material; a subtle exercise that never entirely answers the question, but rather puts it to us, the viewer to decide. Are George's "psychic visions" of the dead actually a tenuous link to the spirit realm? Or is George merely using his abilities to project his subject's sub conscious thoughts? Is Marie really experiencing what she sees, after being pulled from tsunami waters, still and unbreathing, or is it her own sub conscious perception of what death is "supposed" to feel like. Does Marcus really feel the presence of his departed twin brother? Or is this a projection of his own sub conscious thoughts onto coincidence? In much the same way as it does with our characters, Hereafter plays with our own thoughts and beliefs.
In many ways, the "parallel narrative" gimmick relies on coincidence and Hereafter is really no exception. Where the film differs, however, is in how Eastwood handles the individual tales. There was never a doubt in my mind that these characters would all eventually meet, and that George, the lynchpin, would have a profound effect on our other two players. It's not about the destination, which is never in doubt, but the journey that leads us to this point, and that's where the choices made in the film shine. The coincidences and chain of events that lead our three travelers to their crossroads never feel eye-rollingly contrived, but rather inspire more of a sense of realization, more of a "So that's how they meet!" reaction.
This sort of tale needs a strong cast to succeed, and Matt Damon again proves that he's more than capable of rising to the challenge. Damon has long been one of those unsung talents, often bringing charisma and intelligence to a role that would otherwise have consisted of a flexed bicep, a raised eyebrow, or a pretty face. He consistently nails a persona, and is by far the single best reason to tune into Hereafter, much like his amazing (and criminally overlooked) turn in Invictus. I can easily see why Eastwood would want Damon for this, as there's not another actor I can think of who can combine the charisma of a leading man with the intelligence and emotion of a real thespian like Damon does without relying on over the top emotional outbursts (see Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale). I'm unfamiliar with Cecile De France, but her character was equally intriguing, and her performance was equally impressive. She holds her own very well, her performance is a soulful one. Slightly less impressive are newcomers Frankie and George McLaren as the twins. Their performances boarder on wooden, but there's an earnestness to them that works well, and they lack that Hollywood precociousness that most child actors bring to the table, they certainly feel more real than the blabbermouth eccentrics and verbose child prodigies that typically littler Hollywood films. That the McLaren's lack the experience to really nail the emotional weight of their particular story isn't something I can really hold against them, being so new to the game.
Being a recent film, Warner's Blu-ray treatment is top notch; the subdued colors and blue hues come through beautifully in the 1080p AVC transfer, and the clarity is top notch. There's a natural layer of grain and a perfect balance of fine detail. The audio is also wholly enveloping; the few loud scenes come though all channels, and the quieter moments resonate wonderfully.
Extras include nine focus points, which cover different moments in the film, and how they were achieved, and the rather lengthy documentary, The Eastwood Factor, now in extended form. The documentary, while heaping the praise heavily (and probably justifiably so) on Clint, is an all-encompassing look at 35 years' worth of Eastwood and Warner Bros. collaboration, narrated by Morgan Freeman. At over two hours, it's really a must-see for any Eastwood fan, even more so than Hereafter itself.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hereafter technically isn't an overlong film, but at over two hours, the dialogue-heavy film does feel like a bit of a marathon at times, and Eastwood goes for a surreal, understated look that often contributes to the general dreariness of the proceedings. If the subject matter doesn't particularly strike you, it's pretty safe to say that this is definitely not a film for you. If you go in expecting the atmospheric supernatural thriller that was initially advertised, you'll walk away disappointed; Hereafter, in spite of a few scenes that may tickle your terror bone, is all drama.
Then there's the screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen); Yes, I know I stated above that it's nice to see a refreshing film for an adult audience, but Morgan's script does tend to lay the melodrama on rather thick. Dialogue often plows into fields of corn, and plays the sentimentality card repeatedly. It feels more like the screenplay caters to the "Lifetime" crowd than the usually film-savvy average Eastwood fan. Beyond that, Morgan's ideas, being a self confessed non-believer in the afterlife, come across precisely as the simplistic ideas or suggestions of an outsider. Not to wish harm on Mr. Morgan (far from it, he's one of my favorite screenwriters), but perhaps a pass or two from someone who's shared these experiences, or perhaps believes in the thought of consciousness after passing on could have made for a stronger testament to the idea. Morgan's thoughts are considerably more nebulous and theoretical, when they should perhaps, be more spiritual. Strong performances save the day for the most part, and the film's subtleties more than make up for the weaknesses in dialogue.
While Hereafter isn't one of Eastwood's strongest efforts, it's still a fine example of just how Clint's thought process works, and how much of a unique directorial talent he is. Damon's performance elevates what is a thoughtful, if flawed screenplay that deftly weaves in and out of real world events. It's a great film for a quiet night at home with a significant other. It may even spur on discussion about your own thoughts or beliefs on what awaits us at the end of life's long tunnel. Warner's Blu-ray presentation is typically excellent.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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