At 80 yrs. old, Clint Eastwood doesn’t need the money, so he can afford to take chances with the movies he decides to make. “Hereafter,” now available on DVD, has a bankable star in Matt Damon and an award-winning screenwriter in Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) to go along with Eastwood’s own considerable drawing power. Yet it received some pretty tepid reviews and did poorly at the box office, and you can see why.
As the title implies, the apparent subject is the existence of an afterlife. The movie doesn’t give a clear answer to this Big Question, however; it’s more concerned with three characters who have varying degrees of contact or connection with people who have died. As psychic George Lonegan, Damon must convince the viewer that he’s no charlatan. (The script at one point acknowledges the plenitude and variety of quacks in the field.) George has had notable success in seeing through to the other side, but what his entrepreneur brother, Billy (Jay Mohr), sees as a gift, George believes is a curse. Despite his efforts, he has been denied the normal life he craves, a poignant fact that Eastwood and longtime collaborator cinematographer Tom Stern continually reinforce, picturing George sitting alone, framed in doorways, set apart even in crowds. Eastwood’s understated score further underlines George’s melancholy.
A briefer brush with the hereafter has changed the life of French TV personality Marie LeLay (Cecile de France). On a tropical vacation with her producer and lover, she is swept up in a tsunami and is technically drowned. (The scene earned the picture its only Oscar nomination, for visual effects.) Before returning to life, she has a vision of shadowy figures standing on a bright, featureless plain. When she attempts to get her “normal” life back, she is distracted: ultimately, she attempts to write a book about her experience and the considerable evidence for an existence beyond death.
The third major character, London schoolboy Marcus (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren are both credited) resembles the other two only in his isolation. His twin brother Jason (see above credit) is hit by a car and killed, leaving Marcus longing for him. A critical moment in a London Tube station brings him into fleeting contact with Jason, though he’s not aware of its significance at the time.
Eastwood and film editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach shift deftly among these three stories, finally bringing them together in a touching—if a mite too coincidental—resolution. The critical knock on the movie was that Eastwood shoots off to many cinematic fireworks during the opening moments (the tsunami is a marvelous recreation via computer graphics), leaving the rest of the movie looking too slow, too contemplative, and (not to put too fine a point on it) boring. I disagree: a movie doesn’t have to have shootouts, car chases, and tons of spectacle in order to be absorbing. Taking care with the small details of life and loss shows care and craftsmanship. If the film plays with controversy without becoming tendentious, well, so much the better.
“Hereafter” is rated “PG-13.” While I don’t think there’s much to damage the average pre-teen psyche, there’s probably not enough “action” to keep it involved. (This may also apply to non-teens, but that’s another discussion.) Eastwood and Damon’s reps notwithstanding, the movie didn’t do big business in the theaters, but that might be a mark of its quality.