There is a sense of familiarity that sets in at the beginning of any Clint Eastwood film. In Hereafter it is triggered by the simple guitar rift, composed by Eastwood, that is heard as the film’s title flashes on the screen. This sense of familiarity fades away, however, as the film ventures into something very un-Eastwood like. Hereafter is arguably the director’s most ambitious film, in terms of scale, scope, and concept, in recent years.
Hereafter tackles the subject of mortality through three parallel stories. George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is an American psychic unable to cope with his ability to communicate with the dead. French journalist Marie LeLay (Claire de France) has a near-death experience during a tsunami that causes her to research the afterlife for her next project. In London, 12-year-old twins Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) care for their alcoholic and drug-addicted mother. When Jason tragically dies, Marcus becomes desperate for one last communication with his older brother. While these stories are individually intriguing, together the three stories fall flat.
Hereafter is a film drenched in sentimentality. How can a movie about our relationship with death not be? Yet sentimentality, unless it is coming from the powerful and heart-breaking performances by the McLaren twins, quickly borders on CGI-overloaded melodramatics.
It’s not that Hereafter is a bad movie. Certain sequences within the individual story arcs are exceptional. For instance, when George is talking with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) during a cooking class, she is blindfolded as he serves her food to taste. This sequence, tightly shot, is the most sensual and intimate scene of the entire film. This is because when Eastwood focuses on smaller, intimate portraits and stories, when he does not try to expand the scope of his lens to more layers than it can handle, that is his best work.
Hereafter loses credibility and strength when it not only attempts to visually create the afterlife but also when it tries to neatly tie up the disjointed character plot lines. Life and what happens after it just cannot be concluded as perfectly and simply as any movie leads you to believe.