It's no secret to anyone that Clint Eastwood is getting older. He reportedly gave his last acting performance in 2008's Gran Torino, but he keeps churning out films as a director. Hereafter is Eastwood's 10th film he's helmed in a decade. That list includes such films as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, his duel dose of WWII with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and Invictus. Not bad for an 80-year-old, huh?
Some creative people tend to increase their output as they get closer to death. It makes sense. Your own mortality is a subject impossible not to contemplate as you turn 60, 70 or 80 like Eastwood. These individuals, in a fever to cement their artistic legacies, leave a trail of later period work whether they are writers, painters, musicians or filmmakers.
Hereafter is an even more direct look at mortality by Eastwood since its subject matter revolves around one thing: the possibility of an afterlife. Hereafter is a quiet, contemplative, adult-oriented and restrained movie. Eastwood takes what could have been a prickly topic for the audience (life after death), injects it with warmth and humanity while giving an underlying message that the way we live is just as important as anything that may come next.
Hereafter is divided among three stories and moves between the multiple groups of characters as they slowly begin to unknowingly converge. Films with separate story lines fall victim to rushing things between the setting, but Hereafter, edited by Joel Cox/Gary Roach from a Peter Morgan script, never hurries itself. Each group of people, spread across three countries, get ample time for the viewer to become emotionally intrigued by their story. The pace feels natural from the start.
All three are linked by the afterlife. First up is a French couple vacationing at a beachside resort. A tsunami (that looks incredibly fake by the way) explodes out of nowhere, ravaging the coastline and city in a wave of destruction. Marie (Cecile De France) is swept into a rapidly moving current filled with debris. She loses consciousness below the water after being conked in the head and begins to see lights, shapes and people in some kind of realm that seems outside the earth. These visions haunt Marie when she returns to Paris and her job as a newscaster.
Matt Damon plays George, a lonely, solitary guy in San Francisco who is hiding from his psychic abilities. His older brother views it as a cash-making gift, George sticks firmly with the "it's a curse" belief. At one time George was famous, with a book, articles, television appearances and website.
Now, he just wants to sink into anonymity, working in a factory, escaping from this unwanted ability where he's so sensitive he can't even touch another person's skin without a jolt of psychic electricity.
The least-engaging group of characters is in London, twin boys who have only each other in their lives. Mom is a drunken mess, oblivious to their care, trying to constantly trick social services so the boys aren't taken from her and sent off to foster care. Like the other major players in Hereafter's story, these two will also face a situation where they come in need of delving into the post-death universe.
A few of the things I really liked about Hereafter is the hushed, introspective tone that imbeds itself in all the stories. Eastwood's direction is assured, somber and thoughtful. The well-chosen cast reflects those attributes throughout. De France, a French actress not known to mainstream American audiences unless you happened to catch her in the gored-out horror/thriller High Tension in 2003, particularly shines. Eastwood's score, full of simple melancholic piano and acoustic guitar notes also stands out.
A surprising thing about Hereafter is that it is a non-denomination, largely religion-free look at the unexplainable mysteries of the possibility of an afterlife. There's no religious dogma, there's no heavy-handed scenes of prayer and salvation. There are a few token leaders of this or that faith, but they are side-players in this story. It's admirable that Eastwood can make a film with this kind of topic, yet do so free of all the artifice and baggage that attaching it to religion would have created. He chose to focus on the logical, humanistic side of things and I appreciated that.
There's some barbs directed at the fraudulent spiritualists trying to convince people they are in contact with the dead, for the right price of course. We get a glimpse of a seance, a man using some sort of electronic recording device and other kinds of hucksterism that grieving people fall prey to. This isn't new. The spiritualist movement held massive sway until the 1920s, when all kinds of famous individuals battled it out (Arthur Conan Doyle -- believer, Harry Houdini -- skeptic and zealous debunker) for the hearts, minds and money of the public. These opportunities for stealing from the gullible are always going to exist due to the desperate nature of those who have lost someone, they just go about it in slicker, more clandestine ways now. Is George really blessed with the gift? It sure seems so.
Clint Eastwood, the beloved, squinty-eyed man of few words keeps pumping out films, even in his old age. Thank goodness. It looks like he's going to take 2011 off although he's at work on a big biopic release of J. Edgar Hoover starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2012. He might be finished as an actor, but Eastwood is showing no signs of slowing down as a director, making enjoyable, interesting, well-crafted, idea laden adult catered films like Hereafter. Keep on going, Clint, keep on going.
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