By Gary Murray
Starring Matt Damon, Cecile De France and Bryce Dallas Howard
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Running time 129 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Clint Eastwood is truly an auteur in the cinema. He has directed film after film that examines the human condition and how people in different situations have do deal with very human emotions. His latest is about what happens when we leave this mortal bond and is called Hereafter.
There are actually three stories in Hereafter. The first story is of French television reporter Marie (Cecile De France) a woman on holiday with her married producer boyfriend. As he sleeps, she goes into the seaside resort town to shop for presents for his kids. As the morning breaks, there is a rumble from the ocean. A tsunami breaks toward shore, with sweeping water destroying everything in its wake. She tires to run but in caught in the tow, hitting her head losing consciousness and discovering something on the other side of life.
The second story is of a reluctant psychic George (Matt Damon) a once famous clarviont now working at a factory. His brother (Jay Mohr) keeps using George to to better business, pushing the frail young man to contact the dead. All George wants is to be left alone. To meet new people, he takes an Italian cooking class paired up with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) a recent transplant to San Francisco, leaving bad things back in Pittsburgh. He doesn't want her to know his secret. He calls his gift a curse
The last story is of twin boys living in England with their junkie mother. One twin, Jason, goes to the store and is chased into the street by a group of young thugs, killing the boy. After the tragedy, the other brother Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is sent into foster care while his mother goes into rehab. Marcus becomes obsessed in talking to Jason and goes to different lengths, finding out the fakers that milk people of their money while offering hope of talking to a loved one.
Everyone knows that eventually these three stories will converge with each individual meeting the others and how they all have connections begat the basic premise of Hereafter.
To be honest, Hereafter is a very mixed bag of a film with parts of this film being wonderful and other parts just dragging along. The opening special effects scene of the water coming onto the seaside shore is just breathtaking in its magnificent destruction. At the same time, the afterlife looks like an out of focus film school experiment. The film is framed in such a manner that it almost feels like three different movies, made by three different directors, all cut together and hoping to make sense.
The performances are great but again all over the place. Matt Damon gives it his low key best, but one has to wonder how much of a curse he claims his situation actually has become and how much of it is in his own making. When he does a reading for Melanie, he has to know how it is going to turn out because one must assume that it has happened before. He could have kept the girl by just coming up with a little white lie.
Cecile De France was just amazing as Marie, the woman who lost her world but gained her soul. By experiencing the near death experience, she goes from reporting others lives to living her own life. As she takes time off to recover from her experience, she begins writing a book. Not the book promised to her publishers but a book on what awaits for us on the other side. Her research is clinical but her determination is passionate. The reporter in her want to report on the afterlife and the human in her wants to understand it. This is one of the stronger performances of the year.
Bryce Dallas Howard is so hidden behind her character that it becomes almost impossible to see the real person behind the acting mask. Though she is only it the film for a few scenes, she makes the most of the character. We see through eyes the absolute pain that George can unwilling submit someone to. She is the audience's personification and we see hidden pain that moves to the core.
Clint Eastwood is a master behind the camera. taking the audience on a mystic journey that doesn't seem that farfetched. He is a master at mood but the material just isn't up to what we have come to expect from him. The general precis of the Hereafter is 'a life that is all about death is no life at all'. Hereafter sums itself up with forced final connections. It just seems a bit too pat and too clean in what is a messy world.