George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a man with a talent. Some, like his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) call it a gift. Some, like George himself, call it a curse. Whatever it is, it’s something that George is running from.
After a childhood illness and surgery, during which he passed away on the operating table several times only to be brought back to the land of the living, George has gained an ability to speak with the spirits of the recently departed. He only has to take your hands for a brief moment, and the connection is made between George, the spirit world, and the person for whom he is reading.
Apparently, reading people for a psychic is kind of like being in the Mafia. Just when you think you’re out, they (meaning your brother, a cute girl from a cooking class played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and a little English boy) pull you back in again. You can never really run from your past, but can you make peace with your past and accept your inevitable fate? That’s the question posed by Hereafter, which is an attempt at a thoughtful, romantic film about that most unromantic of subjects, death.
Clint Eastwood, he of the spaghetti westerns and action movie hard-asses of the 1960s and 70s, has successfully reinvented himself. Yes, he’s still a noteworthy hard-ass (as seen in Gran Torino), but he’s also become one of the most interesting, talented filmmakers working today. He’s got a wonderful eye, and he frames his shots well, with the able assistance of longtime cinematographer Tom Stern. There’s a lot of beautiful imagery here, a lot of chiaroscuro, and some very graceful transitions.
It’s a gorgeous-looking film, and Eastwood and his actors play the script with a very respectful, gentle hand. The emotional displays, especially those from the wonderful Richard Kind (as Christos, the first character in the film to get a reading) and Frankie and George McLaren (as Marcus and Jason), are very effectively handled, especially on the part of Kind. Damon’s George is suitably haunted and brooding (a bit like Clooney in The American). Nobody goes over-the-top in terms of emotion, which is probably the right idea, because with a script as contrived as this one; if the actors project too forcefully, it’ll suck the serious tone right out of the film and push it into melodrama territory.
Film depictions of the afterlife are usually prone to being a bit schmaltzy, and a film which is based off of multiple stories coming to an intersection tend to be tough to swallow, at least for me. The script from Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) tries its best to shake the inevitability of its three intertwining plot threads, but the structure is the problem. It’s predictable. We know exactly what’s going to happen. We might not know how it happens, but we know it’s going to happen.
In every movie with multiple plotlines, they have to intersect somehow, and all the good acting and well handled direction and understated dialogue in the world won’t prevent people from putting two and two together. Even if the journey to the ending point is a good one, and in this film it is, it still sucks a lot of the magic and power from the journey towards the film’s end when you can follow the trail blindfolded.
It doesn’t help that the film is a good 20-30 minutes too long in the middle (it runs about 130 minutes total). Some of the plotlines, specifically, most of the troubles of Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) with work and dating after her near-death experience just seem to drag on without much in the way of energy. The film seems to periodically lose its way, only to be dragged back onto track again by a change in focus to one of the other main storylines. Of course, to make up for all the time it spent meandering between stories, there was a rush to get the threads linked up and end the film.
The marketing department of Warner Bros has done this film no favors. The commercials play Hereafter as an Inception of the afterlife, or The American with psychic powers. Unfortunately, this film is neither of those things. Of course, it is a fairly well done serious romance-drama hybrid, but that’s not what I was expecting when I went into the theater, and it doesn’t seem to be what the others in the audience were expecting, either.
Hereafter is a very well shot film. It’s got some very good performances from the actors involved, and Clint Eastwood is a brilliant director, no matter what his subject matter might be. However, Hereafter just didn’t enthrall me. As a film grappling with questions of the afterlife and mortality, it worked. As a film about a man made miserable by his abilities, it worked. But, once I figured out how the ends started to tie together, I felt my interest waning.
Hereafter starts strongly, but seems to lose its way about an hour in and finish weakly. It seems like Eastwood was trying to make a deep, intellectual film without the script necessary to support that kind of endeavor.