It’s no secret that Clint Eastwood is getting up there in years. He has been churning out films on an almost yearly basis in the last decade as if he is trying to cram as much work as possible into his legacy before he can no longer do so. It seems then a natural choice for Eastwood to take on the afterlife in his adaptation of Peter Morgan’s screenplay “Hereafter”. In many ways, it is one of his most organic works but aside from acknowledging that an afterlife exists, Eastwood is nowhere closer to any insight on the subject.
It is also no secret that I am not a big fan of Eastwood’s work as a director. I find he often oversimplifies the problem and renders complicated scenarios into clichéd lessons about what it means to him to be a good human being. The idea of him tackling something as complicated as the passage between life and death was frightening at first, even if the writing was in Morgan’s hands, “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” scribe. In “Hereafter”, Morgan tells three separate stories about three different people around the world who are dealing with death in different ways. A French reporter (Cécile de France) is recovering from her brush with death; a young boy in England (George McLaren) has just lost his twin brother; and Matt Damon plays a genuine psychic in San Francisco who has retired in hopes of finding a normal life. While all reasonably compelling separately, their plights never come together, which leaves the film feeling cold and detached.
There are moments in “Hereafter” that are genuinely engrossing and memorable, including an opening so intense, I felt I might soon know my own afterlife. Eastwood lets go of his ordinarily tight grasp on the picture to allow its characters to speak for themselves and its often-haunting imagery to be just that. At first, I was pleasantly surprised but then I realized that without Eastwood playing God that there was really no direction in “Hereafter” at all. Subsequently, I wasn’t able to connect with a film about an experience that connects us all.
Review by Joseph Bélanger