To say that Hereafter begins with a bang would be an
understatement. Within the film’s opening minutes, we witness a huge
tsunami hit somewhere in South Asia. We see it through the eyes of a
French woman on holiday, who gets a near-death experience as she’s swept
up in the waters. This is also where we first glimpse this movie’s
portrayal of the afterlife, which looks really cool. To my knowledge,
this is the first time that director Clint Eastwood has utilized CGI to
such a degree and it’s not bad at all.
Too bad the rest of this movie doesn’t measure up to that “wow”
The film is made of three separate storylines, each of which examines
the concept of death from a different angle. First and foremost is the
story of George Lonnegan, played by Matt Damon. George’s deal is that
he’s a psychic, and not one of those con-artist pretenders. He’s the
genuine article, capable of contacting the deceased upon skin contact
with their loved ones. However, he’s tired of having the dead talk
through him and he’s sick of people who are so grief-struck that they
come to him with every cent they have instead of going out to live for
themselves. What’s more, George’s talent makes him incapable of such
normal social behavior as shaking hands. Yet every time George tries to
quit the medium business, his brother keeps roping him back in,
concerned only with the money to be made.
This storyline is by far the best of the three, simply because Matt
Damon is easily the best actor in the movie. He’s got enough pathos to
make the character work, but not so much that he comes off as completely
heartless. The yearning for a normal life is there, in addition to all
the weariness that comes from so much emotional baggage. Unfortunately,
he’s not given a whole lot to work with. George says no less than twice
that his talent isn’t a gift, but a curse. It’s one cliched line among
many, in addition to a second-act exposition dump, but Damon somehow
makes it all work. If that’s not a mark of acting quality, I don’t know
Alas, the George storyline — easily more than either of the other
two — has quite a few character arcs and plotlines that are abruptly
dropped going into the third act. The one I missed most was that of
Bryce Dallas Howard, who is simply effervescent here. She’s adorably
cute, with just enough grief hiding under the surface, and her chemistry
with Damon was very good. Howard is woefully underutilized, with a lot
of bad lines and nowhere near enough screen time, but damned if she
doesn’t make every moment count.
Our second storyline concerns a young British boy named Marcus, whose
twin brother Jacob is killed off by a fatal plot convenience. This is
our token character-in-mourning, desperate for consolation and going
through all Five Stages of Grief over the course of this movie.
Unfortunately, Marcus does some truly reprehensible things in his
pursuit for closure. This kid steals, runs away and stalks a person in
this movie, all with barely an apology. It might have been possible to
make the character sympathetic in spite of this — he’s doing it out of
grief, for God’s sake — but the necessary talent to make that happen
simply wasn’t there.
The brothers are played by real-life twins Frankie and George
McLaren, though hell if I know why Eastwood bothered to cast twins.
After all, they barely spend five minutes of screen time together. The
McLaren brothers still have their whole careers ahead of them, so I
don’t want to hold this against them too much, but still: These kids
suck. Their performances here were dreadful. I found myself grateful
that Marcus was written to be socially incompetent, because the McLarens
show a crippling inability to emote or to read lines. They can cry on
cue, but that’s it. Even before the tragic death, we see the brothers
talk with each other on the phone and it was painful for me to listen
to. Not one line, emotion or inflection in that phone call sounded
Finally, our third storyline is about French reporter Marie LeLay.
After her aforementioned near-death experience in the tsunami, Marie
keeps flashing back to that moment and becomes obsessed with figuring
out what she saw. She even writes a book about it, along with other
documented near-death experiences. Marie is played by someone named
Cecile de France. She’s passable, but definitely no Bryce Dallas Howard.
The visuals in this movie are horrid. The colors are all limited to
shades of blue and green, with all the warm colors entirely bleached
out. The whites were far too shiny and contrasted garishly with all the
dark colors. The shadows were so dominant in some scenes that it
obscured the action completely. I haven’t seen anything like it since Antichrist,
and that film was actively trying to be ugly, depressing and
But the real problem of this movie is the screenplay. Peter
Morgan recently confirmed that the screenplay was underdone and it
really shows. Watching all of these characters and listening to their
dialogue exchanges, I couldn’t help but feel like they were all
placeholders. I could almost hear a voice whispering in my ear: “Don’t
worry, this is just a rough draft. I’m fixing it up as we speak.” Alas,
we’re stuck with two-dimensional characters that no one in the cast —
save only for Damon and Howard — can add depth to. We’ve also got a
predictable storyline, complete with an audible “clunk” heard when the
three storylines forcibly intersect. Peter Morgan is better than this
and it’s unfortunate that he now has such a stain on his resume.
Hereafter is a disappointment. The premise is good and the
sincerity is there, but it’s buried under too much schmaltz. Clint
Eastwood probably has a lot to say on the subject, considering that he’s
getting on in years, but he could have and should have said it with a
better screenplay, more talented actors and a halfway-decent DoP.
If you’re interested in a film that deals with death, Get Low
addressed the matter more competently and thoroughly than Eastwood did
here. I heartily recommend you go see that one instead, if you’re able.