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The Independent Critic

Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren, Derek Jacobi
Clint Eastwood
Peter Morgan
Rated PG-13
129 Mins.
Warner Brothers
Focus Points:
Tsunami! Recreating a Disaster
Hereafter's Locations - Casting the Silent Characters

 "Hereafter" Review 
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There is a brilliant film somewhere deep inside Hereafter, Clint Eastwood's latest wannabe masterpiece and exploration of mortality, death, the afterlife and grief. Some of you, most likely those whose tendencies lean towards cynicism and a certain wariness towards all things spiritual, are likely to embrace Hereafter far more warmly than will those for whom the afterlife, or at least what the afterlife represents, is an essential and comforting part of the human experience.

Hereafter explores three distinctly separate stories that will, of course, weave themselves together by film's end. George (Damon) is someone who sees himself as burdened by his apparent psychic gifts, gifts that keep him from human connection because he is always able to climb inside the other's hearts and minds. Marie (Cecile de France) is a reporter who survives the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami, however, she can't quite weave her way through the emotions of the experience. Marcus (George McLaren) and Jason (Frankie McLaren) are trying to survive in the shadows of a substance abusing mother when one is killed in an accident and the other is left to struggle with their grief.

It's not particularly surprising that Hereafter isn't an emotionally resonant film. Director Clint Eastwood has always been more of a "keeping it real" director than one who intentionally pulls his audience's heart strings. Hereafter is meant to be an experiential, thought-provoking film and not an emotionally evocative, spiritually in tune film. It's not the lack of emotional resonance that keeps Eastwood's latest from succeeding, after all the Coen Brothers have practically mastered the art of experiential, thought-provoking films uncluttered by emotional excess. Instead, it's largely Eastwood's inability to set aside his own cynicism and that of screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen), who has openly admitted he himself does not believe in the afterlife.

It's okay, most certainly, for both Eastwood and Morgan to not "believe" but Hereafter's cinematic impact is significantly muted by their inability to create the film objectively and to allow the audience to decide for themselves. These performances, practically across the board, are so vividly painted with skepticism that investing ourselves in their stories become laborious and, by film's end, utterly meaningless and unsatisfying.

It doesn't help that, for the most part, the film's leads either can't quite grasp what Eastwood's trying to accomplish here or they themselves don't resonate with his seemingly hands-off approach to the after life.

As George, a miscast Matt Damon gives what may very well be his least satisfying and uninvolving performance in years. Boring has never really been a word to describe Damon, but his portrayal of George is so utterly lacking in conviction that one loses interest in his story within the film's first few minutes and even after Bryce Dallas Howard shows up as fellow student in a cooking class with whom he shares an attraction. Howard herself appears similarly lost here, not surprising given the actress's typically substantial approach to similar roles that feels uncomfortably muted here.

Cecile de France, while slightly more interesting than Damon's George, fails to spark as Marie, a reporter who witnesses a traumatic event yet whose post-trauma journey feels almost stunningly bland and lifeless. The McLaren's, playing twins, do manage to give the film some true depth during their time onscreen. Unfortunately, Eastwood focuses far more attention on his big names here and, as a result, the film itself suffers greatly.  Character actor Richard Kind also shines as a man grieving the loss of his wife.

The 80-year-old Eastwood serves up the film's original score, an appropriately mystical mix of simplicity and deep thought that is typical of Eastwood scores. Tom Stern's camera work also helps to give the film a grandiosity befitting its universal themes.

Hereafter is close. The film very nearly becomes one of the definitive films to address the afterlife, successfully avoiding the faux spirituality of Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones but desperately needing a dose of that film's emotional resonance or, at the very least, human relevance.

Had Eastwood and Morgan been able to set aside their own agendas, Hereafter may very well have been yet another stellar film from the cinematically immortal Eastwood. Instead, we're left to ponder better films tackling similar themes including Javier Bardem's upcoming Oscar bait Biutiful.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic