Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language, 129 minutes
Dour, slow "Hereafter" fails to make a strong connection
"Hereafter" is a unique film with a unique premise. A painfully dour, slow film dealing with the afterlife, it's certainly a change of pace for director Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon, who generally make more message-driven and/or action films. But the slow, uneven pacing is one of the central problems for the disappointing "Hereafter," a film that lacks a strong emotional core. Though it's thoughtfully acted, for a film about making a connection, it fails to deliver a connection with its audience.
"Hereafter" is a drama that tells three parallel stories about people who are haunted by death in different ways. George (Damon) is a blue-collar San Francisco native who has a special connection to the afterlife. A once-successful psychic, he's given up trying to connect with the afterlife to connect with the real world. On the other side of the world, Marie (French actress Cecile de France), a French journalist, has a near-death experience as survives a tsunami. And when Marcus (Frankie/George McLaren), a London schoolboy, loses his twin brother, he desperately needs answers. Each on a path in search of the truth, their lives will intersect, forever changed by what they believe about the hereafter.
"Hereafter" is a murky, unsatisfying and very cumbersome film that lacks insight into the afterlife or the characters in the film that are trying to make sense of it. It's one of Eastwood's most sensitive films to date but also one of his most disappointing. There's an underlying sense of poignancy to the story, but it never really grabs your attention; it opens with the stunning tsunami flood scene, but after that it's a pretty emotionless affair.
But the failure of "Hereafter" isn't necessarily all Eastwood's fault, but it's still a big disappointment for the handsomely-filmed A-list production. The overly-ambitious, nebulous subject matter isn't developed near enough by "The Queen's" writer Peter Morgan, and it brings up a few questions that it never really pursues, and most of the characters, particularly Damon's, are thinly written (George's backstory is very vague, which would've helped explain his reluctance to provide psyhic readings).
The most memorable storyline belongs to newcomer twin actors George and Frankie McLaren, who give natural, unforced performances in their acting debut. Their story most resonantes with those struggling with loss and mortality, and they have the "Hereafter's" most poignant scene in the last act. However, the romantic angle between Damon and the lovely De France is out of place, and the unsatisfying climax, which brings all three stories together, is a bit of a stretch.
As with many of Eastwood's productions, the lush production elements highlight the film, from the handsome photography to the detailed sets to the overly-soothing score provided by Eastwood himself (the latter is soothing to the point of sleep-inducing given the slow-as-molasses pacing to the film). Still, "Hereafter" is the season's first big disappointment: not only does it not provide any genuine insight into the afterlife, it's simply a bore.