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Movie Review: ‘Hereafter’

October 22, 2010
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If there is one truth that is universal to every human being, it is that we are all going to die someday.  For some people that is a terrifying prospect, for others it is just another stop on life’s journey.  Whatever your beliefs are, I think that all people have innate curiosity about what happens when we die.  After all, no one knows for sure.

I’m sure it is no coincidence that Clint Eastwood has turned to this subject matter at this point in his life. The man is 80 years old.  He’s likely had more than a fleeting thought about his own mortality.

Hereafter juggles three distinct story lines throughout the movie until they converge in a neat and tidy package at the end of the movie.

The film doesn’t even give you a moment to get settled in your seat before you are subjected to  a gut-churning Tsunami action sequence.  It’s one of the most amazing set pieces I’ve ever seen.  It is terrifying and fantastically realistic, and it will leave you a slack-jawed mess.

Marie (Cécile De France from High Tension) is a successful French news reporter with her own show.  She is on vacation with her boyfriend (who happens to be the producer of her show) when the Tsunami hits.  She has been buying souvenirs for her boyfriend’s children in the marketplace.  As the giant wave starts bearing down upon the market, everyone starts running for their lives.

She can’t escape the wave and she is tossed about like a matchstick with trees, cars, and anything else in the path of the destruction. Essentially she drowns, but some men pull her on top of a building and after several minutes of CPR, she begins coughing. She will never be the same again.

When she re-enters her old life, she is unable to forget about  what happened during those moments when she was “dead.”  She’s distracted and her superiors encourage her to take time off, perhaps to write a book.  Instead, she becomes obsessed with finding out about what happened to her.

George (Matt Damon) is a psychic who used to do readings for a living, but now he works in a C & H sugar factory to make ends meet.  He couldn’t handle the emotional toll that his  psychic ability took on him, and he’s content to live a life of relative anonymity in exchange for inner peace.  Despite that, his obnoxious brother (Jay Mohr) keeps pressuring him to return to doing readings, because of the money “they” can make.

George starts to make a tenuous connection with a cute and quirky woman he is taking a cooking class with  (played by Bryce Dallas Howard.)  She begs George to do a reading for her, and basically harasses him until he reluctantly agrees.  Be careful what you wish for.  His reading is so accurate and painful that she flees from his apartment and never speaks to him again.

Tragically George is alone, once again.  It is so sad that everything that he touches is tainted by his “curse.” He doesn’t want to profit from it, he just wants it to go away.

The third character is Marcus, a young boy in London that has been devastated by the loss of his identical twin and other tragic circumstances.  As played by  real life brothers Frankie and George McLaren, Marcus is heartbreaking.  My lip is trembling just writing about him.  It is Marcus that made me pull out the tissues at the one hour mark and never put them back in my purse.

Marcus seeks answers because he wants to find out where his twin is.  He goes on the internet, he visits  healing centers, and he pays shyster psychics, but he never finds the answers he is looking for.  He just makes your heart ache for him.

Eastwood commandeers solid performances from his actors.  Damon sports graying temples and a bit of paunch as the lonely George.  It is a quiet, understated role.

Cécile De France is beautiful but her countenance is tinged with sadness.  She conveys the burden of her ordeal well.  The irony that her life fully unravels after she survives the Tsunami is ironic and tragic.

I found Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance irritating and abrasive, but that appears to be how her character was written, so she’s just doing her job (quite well, since I wanted to reach up through the screen and throttle her.)

The movie is well directed and shot, but it is far from being a great movie.  The real problem is the story.  The movie is smart and contemplative, but the coincidences at the end are really way too convenient.  The movie didn’t need to be tidied up, and it is cheapened by the converging story lines.

Some might argue that the opening Tsunami sequence simply raises the bar too high, and that the emotional intensity of the film can never match that physical intensity.  The movie does seem to float along, quite ethereally, but the pacing didn’t bother me.

If you come to Hereafter expecting answers, you won’t find them.  Eastwood keeps the afterlife visions extremely ambiguous.

He has invited each of us to examine our own beliefs, and interpret the movie how we wish. I believe it stands as a fine jumping off point for intelligent discussion.

Hereafter is emotionally gripping, wholly original, and quite beautiful.  It’s a fascinating look at life and death from one of our finest directors, but it will be quite divisive due to its subject matter, and for that reason, I don’t think it will go down in history as one of Eastwood’s best.

Hereafter is rated PG-13.  Directed by Clint Eastwood, and written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon.)  Starring Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Kind, Jay Mohr, and Frankie and George McLaren.

Rating 3.5/5

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