If you've watched the films of Clint Eastwood over the past decade, you'll see that they all have a pacing or a rhythm that some might regard as slow and methodical. Watching the opening reel of this movie, one might think that Eastwood has drastically changed his directing style. The first 15 minutes are shocking and exciting, and even though Eastwood has directed big action sequences before in films like Flags of Our Fathers, the epic nature of this one would have you think he turned over the reins to Steven Spielberg.
The beginning of this film is so powerful in fact, I would recommend going to see Hereafter just for that sequence alone. Unfortunately, the remaining, near-two hours is not essential viewing, though the way it plays out is unusual for both the men behind it and might prove a thoughtful diversion to film enthusiasts. Though early reports compare the central character in this film to that in The Sixth Sense, the overall structure and tone of this film are vastly different.
Writer Peter Morgan unpeels this film in a way much unlike his previous works. In many of Morgan's screenplays, he utilizes a duality where the movie isn't about just one but two main characters. Morgan was nominated for the Oscar for writing The Queen, which was about not just the Queen of England but also Prime Minister Tony Blair. In The Last King of Scotland (2006), the film focused on Ugandan president Idi Amin and Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan. Morgan's The Other Boleyn Girl had two sisters at its core. In Frost/Nixon, it was David Frost and Richard Nixon.
For nearly half a decade, this was the pattern emerging from Morgan, a pattern that he started to break in 2009. Hereafter is not content with being a duality, a movie about two people and how their lives might intersect. This film is about three distinct people, three random people, three people in far separate countries on Earth, three total strangers. Whereas in previous films, Morgan had distinct characters that had natural relationships, here the convergeance of characters is one that is a complete stretch and doesn't happen till the very end, making this basically three separate films entirely from which Eastwood's long-time editor, Joel Cox, has to cut back and forth.
While Oscar-winner Matt Damon stars as George, from the way this movie runs for about a hour, you'd hardly notice he was in the movie at all. The film actually starts with Belgian actress Cecile de France who plays Marie, a Parisian TV journalist on holiday in Indonesia in 2004. The film also spends a significant amount of time with Frankie and George McLaren who play London-born, 12-year-old twins Marcus and Jason respectively.
Damon's character of George is a medium who is capable of talking to the dead, much like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. Yet, he's a psychic that doesn't want to be. If it wasn't for his brother, played by Jay Mohr, continuing to spread the word, George would have no one know about his psychic ability. There are possibly a myriad of reasons but one is that he knows that it would interfere with his personal life, as it does when George tries to get close to a young woman he meets in a cooking class, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.
Eastwood does a good job of staging this man's loneliness, isolation and even fear, giving Damon moments to look passively and anxiously out of his apartment window or to literally run away from people, pressuring him to use his gift. However, Morgan never gives him enough. During a delicate date, George rattles off his backstory rather awkwardly. He basically explains how he got his gift, but more pertinent information about how it affected past relationships and how he came to resent it are skipped over. During a reading that George gives to his date, he opens up a past wound within her, but we never know fully what caused that wound. We're left to speculate, which was a little frustating if understandable.
With Marie and Marcus, the youngest of the British twins, we're involved more with what's happening to them. Both deal with death and the afterlife in different ways and it's interesting to see how they do it. Marie takes a more scientific approach whereas Marcus follows a more paranormal one. Yet, it's ironic because no one really talks about the hereafter in a movie called "Hereafter." Marie has one conversation with her boyfriend, played by Thierry Neuvic, about it where he offers a skeptical point of view, but that's it.
I suppose that that's the point of it, how people even in separate countries avoid talking about or dealing with the hereafter and death until one day when it literally comes out of nowhere and grabs you. There's one scene involving a rushed funeral that seems to make that point visually and symbolically.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 6 mins.