I actually like this version of the poster.


This review is going to seem “overly-critical” (whatever the fuck that means) and perhaps even dismissive. I should therefore make sure I say that I did like the movie. I liked it a lot more up until I started to figure it out. I don’t mean in the sense that the film has some buried message or meaning that I pieced together and disliked. I wish it was that interesting. The problem with Hereafter is that it’s boringly safe and straightforward to a fault. And, of course, the problem with Hereafter is that it’s an overblown metaphysical yarn about fate conspiring to get Matt Damon laid.

I shit you not.

The thing is, the performances and separate storylines are very good in some ways. All of the actors are on their game, including the McLaren brothers who play kids Jason and Markus. Damon, Cecile de France and all of the supporting actors (including a movie-stealing turn by Bryce Dallas Howard and the usual Jay Mohr shifty thing) are great. The three narratives that inevitably come together are all interesting stories in their own right, though plagued with cliches in some cases.

The first story and probably the most interesting is that of Marie, a famous political talk show host (think French lady John Stewart w/o the funny) who is on vacation in an unnamed country (probably Indonesia) which suffers a massive tidal wave. Drowned and dying, Marie flashes into a vague otherworld and becomes very interested (though not obsessed, which we might expect) in the experience. Her interest, though it makes the people she answers to uncomfortable, never quite reaches the level of isolating obsession. She gets abandoned by her boyfriend, the studio chooses a new “it girl” but because of the split narrative, we feel a disconnect with this. Or maybe it’s because these are beats we’ve seen too many times before and even Eastwood knows they’re just boxes we expected to get checked.

Marie’s story is more interesting when she tracks down a doctor who does legitimate research into the scientific phenomenon of the afterlife, but due to intellectual conservatism and biases, she and others like her are forced underground. Stuff like this seems to be leading to Marie going public and making a sensation out of this that finally crosses the line between conjecture into true discourse. Watching this get halfway along is exciting but ultimately never amounts to anything.

Huge missed opportunity. I’d like to see the movie about that world but since this isn’t it…

The second story is about a boy who’s twin is killed in a car crash. They are good kids who cover for their addict mother, and Markus (the one who survives) is completely bereft at the loss of his brother (with whom there are some hints of mysterious magical twin-connection) and then his mother who goes to rehab or something.  Placed in foster care, the reticent and introverted Markus ends up chasing down various “death experts” and psychics looking to find some way to talk to his brother, especially after a critical moment that seems to suggest “someone” is watching out for him.

Markus’s story could have been very sappy but it is kept restrained which is admirable because it allows us to enjoy some of the meta-commentary being made. As Markus encounters charlatans, each more ridiculous than the last, we are being prepared and eventually sold on the simple sincerity and genuineness of George’s gift. When Markus finally meets George and gets to talk to his brother, his story is pretty much over but not before providing George with catalytic information on the road to boning a French lady.

Which brings me to George (Damon), who is the psychic with a connection to the dead. All he has to do is touch your hands for a moment to “make a connection” and he can talk to dead people for a while. He always does these “readings” in the dark which is a bit conspicuous and cheesy. George has quit doing this publicly or offering his services for money, basically wanting to live a normal life. Not once but twice we are told this is a “curse” and not a gift. So again we have boxes that need to get checked and the movie suffers for it.

But George is also a Dickens fan and on the verge of getting back into the business he left, he lights out for London. This comes after a false start with a new girl, who he lets in on his secret and who can’t deal with him knowing what he learns about her. It also comes after getting laid off from his blue collar waterfront job. Instead of going along with his brother’s master plan to get the psychic thing up and running again, and this time better than other, George writes him a sappy letter and takes off.

The movie wants us to think George is going to London over Dickens, but really he’s there to meet Markus and nail Marie. He sees Marie, hears her accurate depiction of the afterlife, and is sort of smitten. Markus picks up on it and rewards George’s eventual kindness with Marie’s hotel information. Marie, who noticed George noticing her and liked it, evidently serves the story better by an implied romance with George than in ending the “conspiracy of silence” about the afterlife.

So yes. The whole thing coalesces into nothing more interesting than a psychic nailing a french woman who has a preoccupation with death. Helped by a magic Twin in exchange for a virtuous boon.

Clint Eastwood is definitely getting old but this is Peter Morgan’s fault for finding nothing more interesting to do with his script. I mean, keep the romance angle I am totally fine with that and both characters deserve the happiness they’ll probably find with each other. But do we really need an entire movie dedicated to fate (and ghosts apparently) joining forces to make sure a psychic gets some Parisian booty?

This reading of the film makes it more entertaining in a way. I will tell everyone who asks that Hereafter is really about gettin’ some, though it’s framed with potentially interesting stories that are uninterestedly told.

My favorite part of the film was completely contained in George’s story but I suppose has major consequences. As an example of how fate works in this film, George is taking a cooking class and meets an insecure but adorable woman named Melanie. Bryce Dallas Howard’s small role makes you wish you were watching a movie just about these two getting together as they have amazing chemistry. I think if Hereafter were about a psychic who sees dead people meeting a traumatized woman who must learn to cope with him, his gift, and what he knows about her… we’d have a better movie that still accomplishes everything Eastwood set out to do.

Except maybe spending 20 million dollars reenacting one of the greatest natural disasters in recent memory.

Anyway, it’s the scene where Damon is feeding Howard some yummy foods (and she’s blindfolded) that wins the movie. She is at that level where you understand exactly why the hero is falling for her, and this is rarely achieved in even movies that focus on these types of relationships, let alone the ones who use them as a plot device. So well done all around.

Clint Eastwood generally makes Oscar-bait prestige movies that are as safe and pandering as they come. He makes very good looking movies and tends to pull out stellar performances even if stilted by bad dialogue or cliche characterizations.

Hereafter is therefore standard Eastwood. I wish it was as bonkers as Gran Torino.