It's still pretty amazing to see the quality works that Clint Eastwood churns out as producer/writer/director/musician even, and I admit I've been quite the fan in recent years, where he can tackle films at blockbuster levels, or tell a simple tale with so much heart in his signature low frills, no flashy gimmick manner, allowing characters to shine through from Million Dollar Baby right down to Invictus shown here last year. His latest film Hereafter explores the afterlife, and what it means for those who have experienced it fleetingly, or have that burden in their heart that cannot be let go lest they forget their departed loved ones. Boasting three separate tales that you know will inevitably converge, Hereafter was somewhat clunky in execution as it stumbles its way to the expected finale.
Which is surprising, because writer Peter Morgan is famed for stories and screenplays such as The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and Frost/Nixon amongst others, compelling stories that would keep one glued to the screen and engaged in the story, but here the offerings were a mixed bag, where the potential strengths of each tale far outweighed the combined end product. Recognizable stars like Matt Damon, Cecile De France and Bryce Dallas Howard even lend star power, but ultimately couldn't get enough of the chemistry going, especially with the hokey suggested romantic angle that came out of nowhere but to forcefully bridge two of the three narratives.
Hereafter started with a bang in putting in the money shots, which involves Cecile De France's Marie LeLay, a famous news anchor, being caught up in the Sumatran tsunami of 2004, with huge waves crashing deep into mainland like how a disaster movie would. While effects looked cheap at times with unrefined superimposition work, this segment had the weakest story as plenty of time got devoted to how Marie tries to reconcile being given a second chance at life, with frequent post traumatic flashbacks to the incident. There's a takeaway here though, which is the reminder on how to best survive this natural disaster - being a strong swimmer never actually helps, because of the dangers posed by debris of all sizes under current that upon impact will have deadly ramifications. Head to high ground, fast!
The second segment takes place in England, where a pair of twins Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren) try their best in keeping their dysfunctional family together, since mom (Lyndsey Marshal) is almost always intoxicated with a drinking issue, and frequent visits by social workers threaten to tear them apart, with mom checking into rehab, and they would probably be split into foster homes. A tragedy strikes, which will leave you quite dumbstruck, and lead into how Marcus continues to stoically face life, while being torn apart inside. There's a moment of brilliance here that ties his chapter into real world incidents, with a natural disaster in the earlier arc, this one boasted a significant man made disaster without going overboard with it.
Reuniting with Matt Damon whom Eastwood had worked with previously on Invictus, Damon cuts down the mass gained there to play jaded psychic George Lonegan in the third story arc, turning his back on his calling, preferring not the automatic riches he could have milked from clientele, but for an average, everday Joe job that pays modestly. It's the classic tale of not wanting to exploit one's abilities that will make one become rich and famous, choosing instead the simpler lifestyle without feeling lousy over one's psychic connections with those on the other realm.
This arc I had thoroughly enjoyed, because it showed how the simple life can be the more attractive one, with nary a care in the depressing world of sorrow and guilt, two strong emotions the reluctant George has to subject himself to should he become that bridge for masses of people. We get glimpses of how accurately powerful he is, measured in contrast with slight comedic proportions on some of the quacks encountered. A sensitive love story with Bryce Dallas Howard got worked in that was too little too soon, and the character of George Lonegan definitely deserved a lot more screen time for us to get under his skin, since there's plenty of potential here that had gone wasted.
Other films tackling similar subjects would have steered the film toward the horror and thriller genre, but definitely not Eastwood as he has that knack for powerful dramas. Others may paint the afterlife as either that beautiful heaven or that horrific fiery hell, but in Eastwood's hands it's simply just a void of nothingness, where spirits hang around for that one opportunity for closure with loved ones before departing. The actors did a wonderful job in perfecting their characters' nuances, and stealing the show would probably be Frankie and George McLaren who play the twins, and it's hard not to feel moved when they share screen time opposite Matt Damon eventually.
Perhaps it could have been the heavy, sorrowful subject matter that turned people off, or that even keeled pacing that didn't seek any crescendos or sensationalize issues at hand that made this film gloomy in overall terms. Hereafter becomes one of those that doesn't have too many merits to make it great, but contained enough to keep it treading about average.