on October 20, 2010
Many of us have a terrible tendency to pigeonhole filmmakers into the genres we think they're best suited for. When I first saw the trailer for "Hereafter," I, like much of the moviegoing public, was unpleasantly surprised at the thought of Clint Eastwood having directed a supernatural drama. Given his recent triumphs with films like "Mystic River," "Million Dollar Baby," "Changeling," "Gran Torino," and "Invictus," it just didn't seem like something he would have or should have done. As usual, I was reacting impulsively; "Hereafter" is an incredibly strong film, in large part because Eastwood resisted the temptation to treat it as a thriller. It certainly has mysterious elements, but for the most part, it's a poignant, thought-provoking story of how different people react to traumatic circumstances.
The common thread of the story is death - or, more accurately, what awaits us after we die. Although glimpses of a spiritual void are revealed, neither Eastwood nor writer Peter Morgan makes any grand claims as to what it is or how it works. In other words, the film assumes the reality of life after death, but it doesn't linger on details such as heaven, hell, purgatory, or anything else resembling eternal punishment or eternal reward. There isn't even a discussion about the existence of God. This isn't a criticism. We've seen far too many movies in which deathly states are both explicitly examined and regarded with either extreme sentimentality or extreme terror; "Hereafter" wisely avoids these clichés, in effect keeping the true nature of death a mystery.
The film is initially structured as three separate storylines, all of which theatrically but cleverly converge during the final act. In the first storyline, we follow Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), a French television journalist for a left-wing political program. While on vacation, a tsunami tears through the resort and sweeps her away, causing a near death experience. (While never directly stated, I'm forced to assume that Eastwood was depicting the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that destroyed coastal cities in Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.) Miraculously, she's revived. However, upon returning to France, she finds the experience has had more of an effect than she ever thought possible. She can no longer concentrate on her work, damaging her celebrity status. She's consumed with thoughts of life after death, a possibility that neither her atheist lover (Thierry Neuvic) nor her secular coworkers are willing to consider.
The second story focuses on George Lonegan (Matt Damon) a San Francisco factory worker who, after a childhood illness, gained psychic powers, specifically the ability to talk to the dead. He doesn't consider it a blessing, and he flatly refuses to step back into the spotlight as a celebrity psychic. In an Italian cooking class, he strikes up a friendship with a female student named Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), which seems like the beginnings of a contrived Hollywood romance until he takes her to his apartment; at that point, a simple but disturbing scene makes his reasons for trying to keep his ability abundantly clear. His brother (Jay Mohr) simply doesn't understand where he's coming from; the way he sees it, George is missing out on a tremendous financial opportunity.
The third story centers on a British boy named Marcus (Frankie McLaren), whose identical twin brother, Jason (George McLaren), is struck and killed after running in the middle of the street. This tragedy is made worse due to the fact that his mother, Jackie (Lyndsey Marshal), is a both drug addict and an alcoholic, forcing her into rehab; Marcus, now alone and in foster care, becomes withdrawn and moody, looking uncannily like the proverbial creepy child from a horror movie - pale skin, sunken eyes, and never a smile on his face. He gets obsessed with finding some way to reconnect with Jason's spirit, thus beginning his citywide search for a medium, someone who isn't merely selling crackpot ideas but can actually speak with the dead.
This particular plotline includes one of the film's best scenes, in which Jackie tearfully but bravely says goodbye to Marcus in the Social Services office. The reason it works so well is because it develops Jackie against our expectations. We've been conditioned by other films to see characters like her as hopeless and uncaring; I was prepared for scenes of emotional breakdowns and irrational behavior, such as her being completely unable to cope with Jason's death and somehow finding a way to blame it on Marcus. But nothing that conventional ever happens - even before her son dies, we see that she's finally coming to terms with her addiction problems, and her resolve only seems to strengthen after Jason's funeral. So too does her love for Marcus.
The ending is perhaps too conventional, although it appropriately challenges George's assertion that absolutely nothing good can come from his psychic abilities. It also nicely plays into the film's message, namely that, regardless of whether or not there is life after death, we must make the most of the time we're given here on Earth. Inevitably, this will involve the difficult but necessary task of moving on after a period of grieving; life is not about staying in the past, but going ahead. There may be certain atmospheric elements of "Hereafter" that seem atypical for Clint Eastwood, but in no way do they affect his affinity for strength of character and engaging stories. Don't dismiss this movie simply because of its supernatural overtones. There's so much more to it than that.
A tsunami rushes in on an island resort where Marie (Cécile De France) and Didier (Thierry Neuvic) are staying. Both survive, but Marie almost drowns and has a near-death experience, with ghostly light and indistinct figures...George Lonergan (Matt Damon), an apparently psychic American in San Francisco, is pushed into giving a reading for Christos (Richard Kind), a business associate of his brother Billy (Jay Mohr); George resents doing it, claiming that his "gift" is really a curse...in London, twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) struggle to help their drug-addict mother (Lyndsey Marshal) keep it together enough so that they don't get taken away by the social services - but fate has tragedy in store for them. Three stories, linked by death, gradually coming together, gradually influencing each other.
The bulk of HEREAFTER is about coping; George copes with his unwanted abilities, feeling isolated from his brother and even from the attractive and interested young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) that he meets at a cooking class. When she thrusts herself on him and pushes him into making dinner at his place with her, she finds out a bit of his guarded past, and the results aren't what either of them desire. Marie finds both her relationship with Didier and her job as a television journalist faltering, as she decides to write her dream book about a late French politician but can't forget her near-death experiences; and Marcus struggles with loss and even comprehension as a child who feels his life cut in two. Very gradually, all of them are drawn in similar directions, emotionally and eventually physically.
Clint Eastwood's 31st film as director is, like a large percentage of his work, concerned with death. Strangely enough though this film marks an inversion or reworking of many of his previous concerns, in that death begins the film, is at the very heart of the lives of most of the main characters - and yet, ultimately, is less oppressive and less a tragedy or even endpoint than it is in most of his previous films. In almost every way, the film starts out in major keys and works its way towards the minor chords, from loudness to quiet, from tragedy to possibility. It's a film very much imbued with the literary and musical worlds - strands of opera impinge periodically on Eastwood's fine low-key score, and De France's character is a writer and journalist while Damon's is obsessed with Charles Dickens. Cinematically, it works out as a very un-dramatic drama, and even the coming together of the three plot strands seems inevitable and preordained as a literary device rather than the movie-thriller that the misleading advertising promises.
The film is going to irk a lot of people because of its slow pacing, and its refusal to come to anything definite in regards to the questions posed throughout. And there are going to be people who are serious skeptics and cynics who won't like the hints of the extraordinary throughout the film - which remain, for the most part, just hints. But this is not a film trying to come up with any answers to life's ultimate questions - Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan aren't interested in such simple pieties, and they are wise enough to know offering such bones for the audience wouldn't let their characters off the hook. These are people that have to live with the facts of death and what it means to those who survive - even knowing what comes afterward, if anything, wouldn't necessarily make the daily business of getting on with things any better. And all of them begin to realize this over the course of the film; if there's a definite message here, it's that while the conversation about death and it's meaning is a worthwhile one, it's this business of living and overcoming our dark obsessions with the afterlife that is important, and that makes our lives in the here and now worth anything.
HEREAFTER is put together with Eastwood's habitual economy and grace; as has been said many times about his work, it's a film with nearly invisible direction. This might not always be a compliment, but in this case it very much is; apart from the big CGI tsunami at the beginning and a couple of other important scenes that I don't want to spoil, the camerawork is never ostentatious, never gets in the way of the characters or feelings, which are just about all the film is concerned with. The focus then is on the actors, and they do not disappoint. This is the best piece of large-ensemble acting that I've seen in a while and it may be the best cast Clint has ever put together. Bryce Dallas Howard is extraordinarily charming and winsome in an ultimately unfulfilled role; Cécile de France is luminous and conveys a careworn look that seems to age her a decade from her first scene to the rest of the film; the British cast members are all terrific and I'd especially like to cite Lyndsey Marshal for a small but powerfully moving portrayal of a woman on the brink. Matt Damon, though, is working on a level that echoes his director's work, disappearing into his role so completely that he had me completely feeling for him from the beginning. He is ultimately the engine that drives the resolution of the plot, and yet as a very passive and introverted character it's a challenge to make it believable that he would be able to push himself as he does in the last scenes in the film; somehow Damon conveys that inner power and specialness with an ordinary - deliberately ordinary - exterior in a way that is riveting. I've rarely seen an "average Joe" who is so compelling.
And it's the reality imbued in these special-yet-ordinary characters that makes the last few scenes, aiming for a magic and transcendence that I'm not sure I've ever seen Clint Eastwood attempt - and that few directors in Hollywood today are capable of or interested in attemptin - work. If you weren't pulled in, put on the edge of your seat by this slow, somber but intense film, you'll probably find the ending stupid. If like me you really feel like all this contemplation of death, and the futility of really understanding it, has made the small fantasies and artifices in the film fade away and left you with some kind of higher truth - however indistinct, like Cécile's blurry deathly visions - you may well be enraptured, as I was.
It's unfortunate that the trailer for this film seems to promise something like this summer's hit INCEPTION; and given that more people know Matt Damon for the "Bourne" films than anything else, a lot of people will be expecting a thriller, something with sci-fi or fantasy overtones, excitement, effects... They're not going to get it. If there's a model to compare HEREAFTER to, I'd suggest the last few films from the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who like Clint Eastwood made his name with films dealing in violence and action, but ended his career on a quiet, reflective and humanistic note. It's a tribute to how great a filmmaker Eastwood has become that he can stand in such company.
One of Eastwood's best films, and my favorite film of 2010 so far.
Eastwood the Director may wind up in history more well-known than Eastwood the Actor, and for the man who played Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name, in addition to brilliant starring roles in his own films such as Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby - that is saying something.
Hereafter is a film with three different plots headed toward a common destination. In one strand Cecile De France plays Marie, a Parisian Journalist who is saved from drowning in a tsunami and finds that she can't extricate her private and professional lives from the experience. Frankie and George McLaren play twin brothers Marcus and Jason. The brothers have a drug-addicted single mother and share the task of shielding her and themselves from the authorities before tragedy strikes. In the final thread Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, the character you know the other characters are moving toward.
George has the ability to talk to the dead through contact with people who have connections to the deceased. He explains halfway through the film that he developed this ability after a near-death experience, and although his brother (played by Jay Mohr) thinks "the gift" is a gold-mine that should be exploited, George tries explaining repeatedly that it is a curse rather than a blessing. (Any person George touches floods him with images of the dearly departed.)
The film moves slowly. After the opening Marie doesn't want to be a journalist so much as explore the world of near-death experiences. We see young Marcus visiting sham psychics. In a series of scenes we see Damon's George reluctantly give "readings". One of the strengths of the film is that it contrasts the work of the fake psychics, who use clues obtained reading body language and facial expressions, with the dilemma of a person like George, who can't turn his power off, which invariably makes it impossible for him to develop actual relationships. How can you be "normal" if every time you touch a fellow human - you see dead people? Bryce Dallas Howard plays a pleasant woman George meets in cooking class. George attempts to hide his psychic ability from her, but when she finds out, she pressures him into a reading. What begins looking like a simple parlor trick instead rips open decades-old wounds.
For action addicts the film moves glacially after the tsunami scene, but the emotional payoff at the end is worth the trip.
on March 15, 2011
This is a story about connectivity - about how all of us are connected to everything and about how we all will share a common fate, regardless of how we were brought into this world.
Most people will call this "a really deep movie", but it's not. It's so simple it will go over your head. It's the warmth of the sunshine in a midsummer's morning - something we all take for granted and rarely stop to really appreciate it.
I say bravo, Mr. Eastwood, and bravo to the cast and crew. Together, you made something beautiful.
Life is simple. We make it complicated.
on November 21, 2010
With a title like HEREAFTER, why would anyone expect non-stop action scenes? Get a grip, you naysayers. HEREAFTER is a spiritual film, plain and simple. And one of the best films of the year. Not only does it deal with life and death, but how a near-death experience changes a person. And how other people can't understand it. This could've been a really corny movie, but Eastwood did a fantastic job making it real and heartfelt. Highly recommended. And for the naysayers--stick to movies like THE UNSTOPPABLE. That's about all your attention span can probably handle.
on March 24, 2011
This is a sweet and humane film. Like a love letter. I've had two near death experiences. One in 1989 and another in 1993. Clint Eastwood got it right.
on January 7, 2011
If you are interested in the subject matter, there is a definite tension that builds throughout this movie - a sort of rush - that will keep you riveted to the three unfolding dramas (and they are dramas, not thrillers or horror stories) despite the slow pace. And really, it is not so slow of a pace at all except that there are no lasers, robots, or dinosaurs in 3D.
A famous reporter's career and reputation are impacted when she attempts to share her near-death experience with others. Simultaneously and on another continent, a man with a heart of gold is shunned for a gift he cannot hide. And in yet another part of the world a young boy struggles to keep his hope alive as, in a lonely solitary search, he meets one charlatan after another who's claimed connections to the afterlife prove to be yet another farce. These three stories intertwine at the end of the movie, and payoff in a satisfying way. However, they don't payoff in a gratuitously "spooky" sort of way. The ending is certainly satisfying, it is uplifting and there is closure. But instead of gratuitous blowout interactions with the afterlife, the ending is a bit more understated albeit with a very moving conclusion. Personally, I appreciated that sort of restraint. Restraint, for me, was the powerhouse strength of this movie. Instead of jumping as quickly as possible into scenes of the afterlife and spooky interactions, the movie focuses the majority of its time on the hard yet realistic experiences of the characters who've been affected. Like a river that is serene on top but churning underneath, the stories are 95% completed with soft-spoken dialogue, in serene environments, and in safe settings; however, beneath every calmly conducted scene there is also conveyed sharp pain, rejection, and loneliness on the part of the individuals seeking, sharing, and questioning in a world that shuns and becomes annoyed by "that sort of talk." I'm not saying I'm a believer, but this film does make you wonder - Why aren't more of us wondering? What makes some of us afraid to question, or even pull away from those who do?
This movie has some scenes and portrayals of what the afterlife might be like, but by and large it focused more on the repercussions to the characters who shared about or questioned, or tried to hide, their experiences with the afterlife. For me, it's less a movie about the afterlife, and more a movie that defends it as being OK to question and share about it from this life.
on November 8, 2010
HEREAFTER deserves a very mixed review because it deals only superficially with the supernatural and offers no real answers despite the fact that its craftsmanship is undeniable.
After a brilliant start with the tsunami wreaking havoc as giant waves sweep over an entire village beach front, I expected HEREAFTER was about to delve into and explore the possibilities of an afterlife.
Instead, we examine the lives of three separate individuals whose lives are about to converge rather unconvincingly at the finale. Meantime, we have no idea where the story is going until the final scene. There's an uneven quality to the thread of the story with many scenes played too long before getting near the payoff.
But overall, the acting is excellent, particularly that of the little boys, FRANKIE and GEORGE McLAREN, who play the twin brothers effectively, CECILE DeFRANCE, the French woman who almost drowns during the tsunami and her lover (THIERRY NEUVIC), who makes the deepest impression as far as acting and charisma goes. MATT DAMON is effective as the psychic who wants nothing more to do with his "gift." But at all times, the script gives nothing more than a surface treatment of the hereafter and avoids delving into a deeper look at the supernatural implied by the film's title.
HEREAFTER could have been a great film. As it is, it's uneven, slowly paced, and avoids the paranormal aspects that its title implies will be touched, especially since its main character is a psychic. But on the credit side, the opening sequence is amazing for its special effects. Unfortunately, what follows is not as absorbing, challenging or thought-provoking as it ought to be.
The cooking class scenes between BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD and MATT DAMON were dragged out and less than satisfying, due to her irritating habit of delivering giggles with each line to suggest the airiness of her character. Furthermore, their relationship is never fully explored once he agrees to do a psychic reading. She just disappears from the plot line after foolishly begging Damon to practice his skill. The script might have taken a better turn if it resolved their relationship in a meaningful way for the conclusion. Likewise, there are other scenes that are totally irrelevant and give the story a lack of focus.
An attempt to end the story of our three main characters on a bright note is only so-so in effect. I'd have preferred a deeper look at the supernatural than this hints at being and the ending just seemed downbeat and contrived.
The acting throughout is uniformly fine and special praise is due MATT DAMON, THIERRY NEUVIC and the McLAREN brothers, all giving top-rated performances. Clint Eastwood's direction is fine but the script presented too many obstacles for any director to overcome.
on April 8, 2011
NO SPOILERS appear in this review!! Hereafter is not an action movie, nor does it pretend to be. As the title suggests, this movie is about the hereafter. Clint Eastwood, as director, skillfully weaves three stories about the hereafter together in this one film. (Think the academy award winning "Crash".)
There are one or two places where I thought the film was just a little slow, but as soon as the thought entered my head, wham, a major event happened in the movie. This is one of those movies that speaks volumes about life and death (if you liked "The Life Before Her Eyes" -- with Uma Thurman-- you'll like this.) My recommendation is definitely see this movie, preferably with your cell phone and all other distractions off. I noticed a few negative reviews on here for the movie, but I really think those negative reviews were from people who saw Matt Damon was in the movie and figured it was a Bourne Identity type film. (It isn't.) Once again, this is not an action movie. But it is DEFINITELY not dull at all.
Regarding the Blu Ray quality, it was very good, crisp, and clean, the outdoor scenes (great locations by the way) definitely pop.
I made sure not to include any spoilers, even about the outdoor scenes, because I purchased Hereafter just because I passed by a giant billboard for it for what seemed like months-- and I didn't know a single thing about beforehand, and LOVED it. I hope you do the same.
on April 2, 2011
I'm not going to go into the plot or the story, as that has been done enough here already, and you can look in other places online for that as well. I will say that this is an amazing movie, both the story and cinematography. Clint Eastwood is an excellent director/producer, and with Steven Spielberg and Matt Damon thrown into the mix you have a recipe for success. I don't understand the disappointment so many felt towards this movie, but I highly recommend it. It's not a fast paced thriller or action packed movie, but a serious movie meant to be taken and slowly digested. Do yourself a favor and watch it. I watched the streaming version while I wait for the Bluray to arrive. I can't wait for it to get here so I can watch it in High Def again and see what I missed the first time.