"Hereafter", the new film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Peter Mprgan ("The Queen", "The Last King of Scotland", "Frost/ Nixon") is as disappointing as a séance with a fake medium.
George (Matt Damon) is the type of factory worker who makes "two grand a month" yet lives in a nice apartment in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the world. George has a secret; he was once a psychic very much in demand. He did readings for many people, he had a website, he helped people talk to the dearly departed and he was qite sought after. In fact, he still is when people remember who he is. But George has always viewed this ability as a curse. He doesn't practice any more, except when pressured by his brother (Jay Mohr), and prefers to just work in his meaningless job. Because the slightest human contact can cause him to see things, he has also shied away from meaningful relationships. Meanwhile, a French television journalist, Marie (Cecile de France) and her show's producer and boyfriend vacation in a tropical paradise. On their last day, Marie wakes up early to shop for souvenirs when a tsunami hits. While under water, she has visions that haunt her far after their return to Paris. She takes time off from the show to write a book about the repression of the psychic world. In London, twin brothers, Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) struggle trying to maintain a normal life with their drug-addict mom (Lyndsey Marshall, BBC's "Being Human"). When Jason dies, Marcus feels guilty and tries to find someway to contact him, visiting a number of people who profess to use different methods of contacting the dearly departed. Eventually, the three people will meet and help each other.
I am a huge fan of Eastwood's films and have had many long and passionate debates about "Unforgiven" with one of my best friends. She doesn't like the film. I have spent many hours trying to convince her this is the great film many recognize. However, she obstinantly refuses to see she is wrong. But we agree about "Hereafter", although her reaction was a little stronger than mine. She said it was the first film in a long time in which she has actually wanted her money back, she felt robbed. I wouldn't go that far. But there are a lot of problems with "Hereafter", so many that thornhill can't recommend it.
Let's start with the ending. After watching two hours of somber, maybe even somnambulistic storytelling, Eastwood and Morgan have designed an ending that is just so out of place it rings completely false. Worse, for two men who have created some of the most memorable films in recent memory, it rings like an ending more suited for a television show. Obviously, I can't reveal what happens, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And as this is the last moment we spend in this universe, a bad last image is not a good thing.
Next, we have Matt Damon. I get why he walks through the story as though he is sleepwalking, but it doesn't make his character very engaging. George is trying to stave off the nightmares, he gets nightmares when he has the visions, he has visions when he touches people, and he touches people when he meets them. To prevent all of this from happening, George is simply lonely, preferring to spend many hours in his apartment alone. He spends much of his time working in a factory, driving a forklift. Throughout, George walks through the film as though he wishes he were dead. And to portray this, Damon simply keeps his face blank or impassive throughout. It isn't real engaging to watch one of the more engaging actors of our generation walk somberly through the storty.
The best part of the film, involves a cooking class George decides to take at an Extension program. There, the chef (Steve Schirippa) teams him up with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard). Over the course of their relationship, we see illustrations of everything we are supposed to know about George. These moments gives us a better idea of who and what George is supposed to be in twenty minutes.
I wish there had been more of these moments and fewer moments of George walking around with a dour, pained expression on his face. This would have increased the pacing of the film and helped to move the story along, making the overall film better.
Cecile de France (come on, is that her real name?) plays Marie, the rancorous journalist who is famous for raking her interview subjects over the coals. After she begins to have her visions, she decides to investigate and finds the study of the after life, of the hereafter, has never been taken seriously. She decides to write a book about it and shelves the other book her publisher has paid her for. Naturally, he is reticent to publish something "more suitable for the Americans". This is an interesting idea, but the storyline eventually plays out as something barely plausible. Because the study is not taken seriously, she investigates and has long conversations with her boyfriend, with a doctor, with other people. In an effort to make this part of the story work, these long conversations and investigations have the opposite effect. Instead, Marie's journey becomes an illustration of an old stereotype of French culture. People sit in groups and endlessly discuss.
It isn't a great idea to include tons of interviews and discussions in a fiction film. Film is a visual medium and should illustrate a story with images, with action, with movement.
Also, we don't really know what Marie was like before. Before the tsunami. Before the visions. All we know is that she is famous. What would have really helped this story is to show us an example of how Marie used to be, perhaps grilling some company executive on her television show. This would provide a nice counterpoint to the interview she conducts after returning from vacation. Her producer tells her to rip into the subject. But she can't concentrate and lets him off easy.
The story of Marcus and Jason is the most interesting and the most believable. The McLaren brothers, who play the twins, are very naturalistic giving us a look at how two real brothers might deal with the situation. As Marcus deals with the Foster system in London and his attempts to contact Jason, everyone around him seems very natural as well, as though we might be eavesdropping on a conversation.
You may not be aware of this, but Eastwood has been very involved in the music of his films for decades. This passion led him to direct "Bird" and he has scored and or composed the music for many of his films. Lately, he was also started to play the music, plucking out chords on a guitar in the background. This worked during "Gran Torino" (and Eastwood even sings during the closing credits) but in "Hereafter", this same guitar playing, selectively used throughout, only serves to make the pace of the film seem even more somnambulistic.
Essentially, the "Hereafter" is not a place I want to visit again and that isn't something I have said about a lot of Eastwood's films.