“A Near-Perfect Afterworld”
Matt Damon, Cecile de France
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood’s 31st movie as a director, “Hereafter,” opens with a scene that has to be one of the most harrowing that he has ever filmed.
While vacationing in a small seaside town in Southeast Asia, a popular journalist named Marie LeLay (Cecile de France) walks past the local merchants, shopping for last-minute gifts before she and her boyfriend depart back to Paris. But her paradise quickly turns into hell on earth, when she notices a giant wall of water racing towards her at incredible speed. She tries to outrun the tsunami, but is consumed by it, tumbling end over end, until she is struck in the head by a rogue object. The impact alone should have killed her, but she is miraculously revived – one of the few lucky survivors amidst a sea of utter devastation.
A spectacle like that, coupled with the movie’s spiritual subject matter, might seem like a radical departure for the 80-year-old filmmaking legend, but make no mistake: “Hereafter” is quintessential Eastwood, marked by the classic style, level of intimacy and general flair for storytelling that has defined the best of his career (especially in recent years). Thanks to a profound script written by Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”), top-notch performances from the likes of Matt Damon and a moving score composed by Eastwood himself, “Hereafter” easily fits the bill as one of his finest movies.
In addition to LeLay’s ill-fated attempt to carry on with her busy lifestyle back in Paris, “Hereafter” tells two additional stories. In San Francisco, Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, a talented psychic who tries to repress his unique abilities to communicate with the dead. And in London, a young boy named Marcus (played by real-life twins George and Frankie McLaren) is overwhelmed with grief after his brother is killed in a car accident. Over the course of 2 hours and 9 minutes, their stories will converge in unusual and unexpected ways – ways that will hopefully give them answers to the biggest questions of them all.
The grand structure of “Hereafter” brings to mind director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ensemble piece from 2006, “Babel,” which also took place in three cities around the world. In “Hereafter,” two of those cities are London and Paris, which is a rather nice touch, since the character played by Matt Damon is a huge fan of Charles Dickens, whose classic book “A Tale of Two Cities” also takes place in those locations.
As a director, Eastwood’s filmmaking style is refreshingly old-fashioned, which brings out the best in Morgan’s screenplay and in the main actors. Damon’s turn as a lonely medium is quite moving, especially when his abilities get in the way of establishing a relationship with a kind-hearted woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) he meets at a cooking class. Belgian actress Cecile de France is just as effective as a journalist who falls out of favor when her distractions get the best of her, while first-time actors George and Frankie McLaren give touching performances while looking for answers about the great beyond.
As history has shown, Eastwood taps into his finest sensibilities while exploring characters who are conflicted with their identities – witness the retired gunslinger in 1992’s “Unforgiven,” the hardened boxing trainer in 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” and now the tortured medium in “Hereafter.” So despite being marred by an uneven tone that keeps it out of reach from those two Oscar-winning Best Pictures, “Hereafter” is still a compelling and powerful film, and one that makes it thrilling to ponder what Eastwood will do here after this.
Verdict: SEE IT!