MOVIE REVIEW: HEREAFTER (2010)
By Michael Arruda
What happens after we die?
That’s the question posed by HEREAFTER (2010), the new movie by director Clint Eastwood. It’s a question that begs for a poignant answer, and while the movie does well to ask the question, it strangely doesn’t seem all that interested in answering it.
The story begins with a French journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) who gets caught in a tsunami and suffers a near-death experience. Afterwards, she finds herself changed, unable to clear her head of the images she experienced while she was unconscious, images of a place she can’t describe as anything other than the hereafter.
Then there’s a young boy (Frankie and George McLaren) living in London with his twin brother and drug-addicted mother. When his twin gets hit by a car and dies, he’s taken from his mother and placed with a foster family. His brother’s death leaves him with such a void he can’t think of anything else but contacting his dead brother.
The third story takes place in San Francisco, where psychic George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who has the ability to speak with the dead, is desperately trying to put this part of his life behind him. He describes his ability to speak with the dead as a curse rather than a gift, and we see this firsthand when he meets a woman named Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) at a night school cooking class who he likes a lot and begins to fall in love with. When she learns about his ability, she begs him to do a reading with her. He reluctantly agrees, and when he relays to her a very disturbing message from her deceased father, it proves too humiliating for her, and she breaks off the relationship.
The driving force of HEREAFTER is the anticipation that these characters are going to meet, and that somehow their lives will intertwine and their fates will change because of it. The problem is this much anticipated meeting takes forever to happen.
We watch Marie meander around Paris wondering just what it was she experienced, decide to write a book on the subject, and then struggle to find a publisher and conduct her research.
We watch the young boy struggles in his new life with his new foster family, unable to clear his head of the drive to speak with his dead brother. This drive takes him to one psychic after another, and ultimately to one disappointment after another.
We follow George to his night school cooking class, as he struggles to overcome his loneliness. We watch him argue with his brother, who tries to convince George to quit his low-paying blue collar job and go back to making money as a psychic.
We watch these stories and we know that nothing is going to change, no one is going to learn anything new, until these characters meet, and yet, the film meanders through their stories with little or no sense of urgency. By the time they do meet, it’s much too late to be effective.
And the answer to the poignant question, what happens when we die? According to this movie, we just don’t know. Well, I knew that going in!
It pains me to criticize a film by Clint Eastwood, because he’s been one of my favorite film talents forever. I’ve enjoyed him immensely as an actor, and I’ve enjoyed his work as a director just as much. His recent films like MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004) and GRAN TORINO (2008) were highly entertaining, and in the case of BABY, Oscar- worthy. But HEREAFTER is a misfire, I’m afraid.
But as disappointed as I am with Eastwood, I’m even more disappointed with screenwriter Peter Morgan. Morgan wrote FROST/NIXON (2008) and THE QUEEN (2006) two films I enjoyed very much, mostly because I thought they had excellent screenplays and had terrific stories to tell. Here, HEREAFTER just isn’t much of a story. You know things are bad when some of the more entertaining scenes in the movie take place during a night school cooking class!
But even worse in terms of the story is that it does next to nothing with answering its big question, what happens when we die? “I don’t know, kid” Matt Damon’s psychic George tells the young boy towards the end of the movie. That’s as poignant as it gets. Even the actual process of seeking out answers is taken on superficially. George communicates with the dead, yet he doesn’t talk about what that actually means. If he’s talking with the dead, then they still exist some place. This isn’t discussed.
The French journalist Marie believes there’s a hereafter based upon her experience after the tsunami, and her research leads her to believe that a hereafter exists, but just what that research teaches her isn’t fully disclosed. She speaks of a conspiracy of silence, but this conspiracy isn’t revealed. She implies that the world’s scientists have documented that a hereafter exists, but the mainstream media and organized religion have suppressed this information. Why? We’re not told. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s not developed at all.
The most compelling story is that of the little boy, but it’s compelling because we feel so bad for him. This story eventually shows us that the dead don’t really leave us, but this plot point comes so late in the game that it’s not why the story works. It works because the boy’s life is so tragic, and we’re moved by his ordeal.
Bottom line, while I enjoyed Peter Morgan’s screenplays for FROST/NIXON (2008) and THE QUEEN (2006), his screenplay for HEREAFTER is too lightweight for its subject matter. For such a big question “what happens to us when we die?” its answers are small.
The acting is fine. I like Matt Damon a lot, and he’s good here, but I’ve seen him in better roles. Bryce Dallas Howard, who we’ve seen in lots of genre films in recent years, from TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE (2010), TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009) and SPIDER-MAN 3, is stuck here in a small, thankless role that pretty much goes nowhere. Cecile De France is okay as French journalist Marie LeLay, but she’s not all that memorable.
Real life twins Frankie and George McLaren probably fare the best as twins Marcus and Jason, and they’re listed in the credits as playing both boys, so I guess they spent time in the movie playing both parts. You can’t tell, since they’re identical twins. Anyway, they’re very good, and were my favorite characters in this movie.
I will say that the special effects during the tsunami scene at the beginning of this movie were excellent. It’s a very realistic sequence with convincing CGI effects.
But I was expecting bigger and better things from HEREAFTER. At the very least, I was expecting to be moved by this movie. I was not.
HEREAFTER is a misfire from start to finish, a slow-moving vehicle that fails to inspire. More interested in asking questions than answering them, its much-needed poignant answer never materializes, remaining hidden in the shadows like a quiet unassuming ghost. As a result, what could have been a powerful story remains mired in the mundane.
I give it 1 knife.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gave HEREAFTER - One knife!