Damon, usually the best part of any movie, is dreadfully miscast. He tries to give a realistic portrayal, but he is just not the right actor for the part.
There is no arguing with the fact that Clint Eastwood is one of the most talented American directors working today. His films have not only garnered critical success and earned numerous awards, but have also earned the legendary actor/director a whole new generation of fans. Eastwood could easily be labeled an auteur; his signature style is very straightforward and literal storytelling. This approach has served him well in films like Letters from Iwo Jima and Gran Torino, but in his new film, Hereafter, Eastwood’s predilection for barebones filmmaking actually hurts the film’s effectiveness.
The film was written by the wonderfully talented Peter Morgan (writer of Frost/Nixon and The Queen), so one might think that Eastwood would have the perfect material from which to draw inspiration. However, Morgan is known for his technically brilliant screenplays, not necessarily for his imagination. Though the script attempts to address metaphysical questions such as what happens after we die, neither Morgan nor Eastwood seem willing to take the necessary leap into fantasy that is required for an examination of such a topic.
The film focuses on three individuals who have all been touched by death in some way. Marie LeLay (Cecile de France) is a French journalist who is caught in a tsunami while vacationing with her lover/producer, Didier (Thierry Neuvic). From what we see, she appears to drown and then come back to life after seeing a vision she can’t clearly define. We also meet George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a warehouse worker living in San Francisco who once had a successful career as a psychic. From what we can tell, George has a genuine gift (though he considers it a curse) that has left him cut off from everyone else except his business-savvy brother (Jay Mohr). In London, Marcus (Frankie McLaren/George McLaren) recently lost his twin brother in a tragic accident, and the grief is also too much for him to handle. He makes desperate attempts to find answers from a number of sources, none of which are remotely successful.
The three characters and their stories inevitably cross paths, but they do so in the most anticlimactic way imaginable. Each has been looking for answers (to loneliness, to pain, to being haunted), but even once their lives intersect there is still a feeling of things being left unfinished. Morgan gives each character such a thin storyline to follow that the moment all three meet is easily predictable and has little to no payoff for the audience.
The only truly believable performance is de France as Marie. Her character’s struggle is mostly expressed through her eyes, and we can feel her desperation and sadness. Damon, usually the best part of any movie, is dreadfully miscast. He tries to give a realistic portrayal, but he is just not the right actor for the part. The McLaren siblings, who alternate between Marcus and his brother Jason, are very poor actors and are only redeemed by their disturbing pallor that makes them look to be on the verge of death at all times.
Eastwood does a fine job of capturing the solitary worlds each character inhabits, and the cinematography is quite beautiful. However, when dealing with the metaphorical or symbolic moments of the story, Eastwood delivers a poorly designed vision of what the afterlife might be like. Morgan gives him little to go on, since the script doesn’t seem to know whether it’s making a case for or against belief in life after death. A film can be intentionally ambiguous or open-ended (2001: A Space Odyssey, Inception) as long as the filmmakers know the truth. In Hereafter, it is clear Eastwood and Morgan have no idea what, if any, point is being made, which only makes it frustrating and pointless for the audience. | Matthew F. Newlin