Ten Word or Less Review – Confident and sturdy and really, really boring.
Given a dunderheaded preview and dopey poster, Hereafter was sold as a sappy, overblown drama about people grappling with life after death. Could Clint Eastwood still make something this hopelessly stupid looking? While it looked painfully trite it turns out to not be awful, just little more than average. An excessively lowkey drama about the after life, it’s a film watching experience which borderlines on the anemic. Hereafter is such a small, tensionless affair one wonders what drew such high calibur talent to it’s bare bones story.
Hereafter is a three tiered story which beings with a French journalist drowning in a horrible tsunami. In it’s only attention grabbing moments, Marie shops for souviners in an unspecified Southeast Asian street market. As she looking for pretty trinkets the entire town is washed away in a flood and she dies, experiencing glimpses of an after life. Shortly after being revived she returns to her life in France but finds she can’t let the memory of her experience go. Paralleling this is the story of Marcus, a British boy whose twin brother James is killed by a car. Marcus lapses into despondency in his brother’s absense, is given up for foster care by his drug abusing mother, and subsequently begins to look for a way to speak to his departed other half. Tying this altogether is George (Matt Damon), a reluctant psychic who can commune with the dead of loved ones by nothing more than the touch of a hand. Weary of his gift/curse George has forsaken his ability and chosen to lead a quiet life of normalcy, free of psychic readings and the emotional turmoil of others. But as someone with a remarkable ability, he finds he can’t quite escape himself and his fate is connected to Marcus and Marie.
Hereafter doesn’t have overblown histronics or hysterical melodrama anywhere in it’s 129 minutes and that’s a fine thing. Subtlety is an underpracticed artform in mainstream movie making and Eastwood has been a master of it in the past. But over the years he occasionally drifts away from subtle and into a territory we can only call non-drama. He puts his actors in front of the camera, they read their lines, what happens happens and that’s that. Eastwood is so against attention grabbing technique that he forgets to grab our attention at all. While fellow elder statesman Scorsese continues to grab movies by the throat and shake violently, Eastwood sits quietly and lets possibilites pass him by.
Going through its motions quietly and steadily, aside from it’s opening tsunami sequence, Hereafter never awakens or engages us. The characters are so earnest and decent, and the story itself so unburdened of stress, that the entire movie floats by with barely a flutter. The fact that it has so precious little to say or speculate about life after death almost negates any point for it to exist at all. It embraces the conventional views of warm lights and family members waiting for you and that’s about all. When you die you’ll be okay, don’t worry. The actors here are all fine and everyone seems invested in doing right by their legendary director, but I can’t imagine Damon and company didn’t yearn for something more than what they were given.
Much like Invictus before it, Hereafter is going to be know as one of those forgettable movies that Clint Eatwood has made in bulk over his vast and varied career. He’s too much of a craftsman these day to make a real piece of garbage but he’s running the risk of becoming a fossilized storyteller. Eastwood commands a lot of respect and it’s well deserved, but for every Unforgiven or Letters From Iwo Jima there are scores of films like Hereafter. Movies which cast no shadow, which have no vigor and ultimately leave you with little in return for your time.