½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard
screenplay by Peter Morgan
directed by Clint Eastwood
by Ian Pugh It's an age-old problem: how do you make a movie (or write a book, or stage a play) about the broad and ultimately philosophical subject of death? Not like this, that's for sure. Looking and feeling like it was shot from inside an aquarium, Clint Eastwood's Hereafter is a failure of staggering proportions. Three stories intertwine to form a bland whole: George (Matt Damon) is an honest-to-gosh psychic who's trying and failing to stay out of the racket; Marie (Cécile De France) is a French TV presenter who recalls visions of the afterlife after being caught in the Indian Ocean tsunami; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is a young lad who seeks answers when his twin brother dies in a traffic accident. Rest assured their paths will cross in profoundly obvious ways as they wrap their heads around the very concept of death and what comes next. I'm certainly not the first person to compare Hereafter to Babel, but Eastwood offers little alternative. Hereafter approaches the various perceptions of death in the same way that Alejandro González Iñárritu approached "life," and the end result is equally bloated and condescending.
George struggles to maintain a normal life that doesn't revolve around dead people. Marcus wanders London in a trance, consulting a series of spiritual quacks in a futile attempt to keep his brother at his side. As for Marie, she has an image to maintain--her face is plastered all over Paris as a BlackBerry ad, and she's supposed write a tell-all book about François Mitterrand--and that image is established as an Ozymandias statue destined to be ignored and, inevitably, replaced as she becomes obsessed with the afterlife. In that sense, the film touches on mankind's fascination with the particulars of its own existence/significance/insignificance, yet there's no sense of drama attached to the questions the movie asks. (And I have my own questions, like what are we to make of the sudden appearance of Derek Jacobi as himself?) I'm loathe to invoke the ignorant clichés of art-film criticism--"it's too slow," "nothing happens"--but in Hereafter's case, they're unavoidable. No one is curious, no one is sad, no one is angry, no one is scared. Life's a bitch, then you die (sometimes in a natural disaster or a terrorist attack), and then maybe you contact your loved ones from within a network of shadows. I can fantasize all day about what, say, Bresson would have done with this material--the question I should be asking is, why did Eastwood fumble so badly with it, having meditated on his mortality to devastating effect in Gran Torino? In the end, it's easier (for me) to blame the script. Like screenwriter Peter Morgan's historical dramas (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Damned United), Hereafter lobs a series of hypotheticals at the audience without ever coming close to exhausting their implications.
The only real shocker arrives when the film makes an offhand announcement in its third act that roughly a year has passed since we were first introduced to these characters. Indeed, nothing has happened. As is the case with far too many movies that try, in vain, to encapsulate the totality of the human experience, Hereafter somehow manages to be theologically lazy and psychologically inert. Without any sense of focus, the climactic moments of emotional grandstanding feel stagnant at best; the whole movie is so distant that it suggests a nihilistic diatribe fitting of a college freshman. (If not for Damon's sensitive performance, my preview audience wouldn't have tried so hard to stifle its derisive laughter.) Two hours, a week, a month, a year...what the hell does it matter in the grand scheme, the picture wonders rhetorically. Eastwood has been around the block too many times, studied the forces of life and death too closely, to leave it at that. I have no doubt he has an amazing film about the Great Unknown lodged somewhere in his brain. My only hope is that he hasn't wasted the will to realize it on this cold, rudderless thing. Originally published: October 27, 2010.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers On Blu-ray, Hereafter comes with nine featurettes or "Focus Points" (collectively, "Step Into the Hereafter") viewable as either a periodic interruption of the feature or entities unto themselves. Presented in HD, there are nine Focus Points in all--"Tsunami! Recreating a Disaster" (7 mins.), "Is There Life After Death?" (4 mins.), "Clint on Casting" (7 mins.), "Delving into the Hereafter" (6 mins.), "Twin Bonding" (6 mins.), "French Speaking French" (2 mins.), "Why the White Light?" (3 mins.), "Hereafter's Locations - Casting the Silent Characters" (3 mins.), and "The Eastwood Experience" (4 mins.)--totalling 42 minutes. Their titles, as you may have surmised, are fairly self-explanatory, but some random observations: the VFX animators working on the tsunami note that, because this was a Clint Eastwood movie, they had to restrain themselves from being "cool," i.e., larding shots with gags that wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Bay joint; Bryce Howard calls Eastwood's refusal to say action or cut "hugely, hugely comforting," but doesn't say why (certainly his preferred "stop" doesn't seem markedly nicer/less intrusive than "cut"); and Allison "Medium" Dubois, incidentally looking nothing like Patricia Arquette, offers that she can't describe what it's like to have psychic gifts any more than we can describe what it's like to not have them. There are poignant shots of Eastwood sitting in his director's chair on a beach, staring out into an infinite tide, but they also have an exploitative quality that ties into the oft-repeated point that 80-something Clint's dabbling in this subject matter is significant since he's gonna find out real soon whether there's a hereafter or not.
Also on board for the first time in HiDef is the full, 129-minute version of Richard SchICKel's dreadful The Eastwood Factor (1/2*/****), the most vacant celebration of a filmmaker I've ever seen. (Seriously: third-graders have written deeper, denser book reports.) Eastwood will talk a little about one of his films, never saying anything particularly penetrating, and an interminable number of clips from the title in question will follow. The piece completely skips over the Leone westerns, every Don Siegel collaboration save Dirty Harry, and in-the-weeds flicks like Pink Cadillac and The Rookie. Morgan Freeman narrates, sounding embarrassed. That's it for extras, although the disc is bundled with a Digital Copy/DVD of the film. Hereafter itself is presented in a virtually flawless 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. Like a lot of late-period Eastwood, much of the action takes place in oppressively darkened interiors, but with its impressive shadow detail, the image doesn't resemble a velvet painting as much as some of Clint's other recent work has on the format. The tsunami is breathtakingly sharp and holds up, for the most part, to scrutiny, while edge-enhancement is, so far as I can tell, limited to a bizarrely electronic-looking establishing shot of Paris at sunset. Accompanying the video is a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that handles the brutal rumble of the tsunami and the intimate dialogue exchanges with equal aplomb. Originally published: March 14, 2011.