Hereafter is clearly an interesting choice for Clint Eastwood. It’s a supernatural drama, which isn’t exactly the genre you’d expect from the dude who brought us a decade’s worth of dour dramas grounded in reality. It’s kind of fun to see Eastwood stretch as a director to fit a more conventional genre of cinema. At times it really works for him. The opening sequence of the film – a terrifying tidal wave decimating a scenic beach-side market – is an excellent example of the skillful camerawork Eastwood is capable of. The sequence is momentarily muddled by shoddy water effects – no doubt a constraint of the film’s seemingly meager budget – but otherwise the directorial style gives the audience an effective first-hand glance at what it’s like to be swept down stream and nearly drowned by crushing water. It is effective in the same vein as a good chase scene in Jurassic Park: “Must go faster! Must go faster!” We’re along with the characters for the ride so it’s easy to get swept away in the action.
The main flaw of Hereafter is that there is so little action otherwise. We begin with three characters in different stages of life at different locations around the world. It should be no surprise to the average film-goer that these three individual narratives will no doubt intertwine at some point through a catastrophic or serendipitous and ultimately life-changing series of events. The problem is that the average film-goer is baited for so long that by the time the three narratives converge the event is greeted with the guttural grunt, “Finally!” This is not to say that the individual plot-lines and performances are uninteresting. Quite the contrary, they are very engaging and watchable for the most part, assuming you like slow-moving dour dramas. Those hoping for new insight into the afterlife can check their hopes at the door. This movie is about the characters, solely.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays Matt Damon’s love-interest in a sequence with a much-needed burst of sweetness that ultimately fades too soon. In fact, one might go so far as to say that between the three narratives – a young British boy who loses his twin brother in a fatal car crash, a French female news anchor trying to rekindle feelings with the preternatural after a near death experience, and Matt Damon as a petulant working class American psychic – Damon’s is the one that sticks out like a sore thumb for inappropriate inclusion. The other stories are distinctly European, work perfectly in coincidence of tone, and it is clear that inspiration from French filmmakers guide Eastwood’s hand as he shoots several sequences. Damon’s character quests for love, but every time he touches a woman’s skin, he connects with a bad memory from their past or a dead relative trying to make contact. Bryce Dallas Howard plays sweet and bats her eyelashes, clearly down to ride the Sarah Silverman express-line into Matt Damon’s bedroom. Damon meets her in a cooking class, and they immediately hit it off with lots of tasting, chopping and sexual tension. She exists solely as a character to express Damon’s inability to find love and inadequacies when it comes to intimacy, not to mention the fact that his psychic ghost-powers have great power and great responsibility. We spend so much time with Bryce, as well as with Damon’s shyster brother (a hungry Jay Mohr) that it almost seems completely arbitrary when Damon finally catches a flight to Europe and incidentally runs into the other two plotlines at the World Book Fair – probably the lamest third act set piece in film history.
There’s one really great moment where Jay Mohr finds out that his ghastly brother Matt Damon has flown to Europe through a letter. Mohr looks at the letter, then stares off at nothing and shouts angrily with all the fervor of a Home Alone actor who just realized that he left Kevin at home. This is incredibly funny, albeit not intentionally. This is one of the film’s few moments of humor. Once Damon actually meets the little boy that lost his twin brother, there are some great moments of acting as Damon acts like a hilarious jerk to a tiny emotionless child. It’s too little too late, but I will say this for Hereafter: it’s incredibly well-shot, well-acted and dementedly slow-paced. If you can put up with the unforgiving slowness, you’ll be able to enjoy the moments that follow, but for the most part this is one to catch on HBO.