I was kind of shocked when I found out Clint Eastwood was directing a movie based on the afterlife, but was glad to see him stray from his comfort zone. I figured with him at the helm of a project produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen), and starring Matt Damon (following 2009’s Invictus), we’d have another Eastwood Classic on our hands. I mean, the man has enjoyed one of the most startling ‘comebacks’ in the history of filmed entertainment, so its only reasonable to get more than a little excited when you first see ‘A Clint Eastwood Film’ on the screen. Sadly, it turns out that I was mistaken, as Hereafter is a slow-paced and disjointed mess that had me constantly looking at my clock more often than the film itself, leaving me to wonder what I was doing ‘here’ and what I’d be doing ‘after’ it was finally over.
The film follows three people who are fated to cross paths while being connected by death and the afterlife. First there’s Marie (Cécile de France), a French television journalist who nearly dies in a tsunami in Thailand (which may make this part hard to watch, given the current crisis in Japan). When she recovers, she gains the ability to see the afterlife, which makes her pampered life go downhill. Next there’s George (Matt Damon), a psychic with the power to connect to the afterlife by touching others. He views this as a curse and tries to run away from this ability throughout the movie. Lastly, there’s 12-year-old London twins Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) who try to get by day-to-day with their alcoholic, heroin addicted mother. When Jason dies after picking up some detox drugs for the mother from the store, Marcus tries to find a way to reach his brother in the afterlife.
Now you would think Clint Eastwood would be able to weave all of that into a fascinating story, but instead he manages to make it rather bland and leaves a sense of emptiness and nothingness to the film. It also suffers heavily from a severe lack of direction, as though Clint wasn’t sure to make it a supernatural drama with the death / afterlife parts, a plain drama with the boys and their mother / real world tragedies included such as the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the 2005 London Bombings, or a romance drama with Matt Damon trying to find love. It doesn’t help that the actors comes off stiff and boring, as though they did the film only for the paycheck and to expand their acting credits (“I worked with Eastwood!”). Its hard to see even the most die-hard Eastwood film fans defending this one.
The Blu-ray only has two special features, but they’re pretty well done. The first is “Step Into the Hereafter Focus Points”, which is actually the same feature found on some of Warner Bros’ other Blu-ray releases. They consist of nine ‘focus point’ featurettes you can watch individually or as a seamless in-movie experience. As you’d expect they cover such things as the making of the tsunami scene, what the cast thinks of the afterlife, locations used for the film, etc.
The other feature is the 129-minute documentary on Clint Eastwood called “The Eastwood Factor: Extended Version”. Directed by Richard Schickel, the doc alone makes this Blu-ray worth checking out, as the great (and frequent Eastwood collaborator) Morgan Freeman narrates and takes us through Eastwood’s impressive career in a fascinating and often insightful manner. It’s a great documentary and well worth a watch for any fan of Eastwood or of films in general.
I really wanted to like Hereafter, but it’s slow pacing, stiff acting, and lack of clear direction make it really hard to watch, let alone enjoy. What could have been a fascinating meditation on life and death (two Eastwood specialties) is brought to a near-standstill of confusion as the film never quite knows what to say with its challenging subject matter, with a clear lack of confident direction by Eastwood himself. Die-hard fans and enthusiasts may find something to like here and will most likely want to complete their collection, but most folks would probably venture a trip into the afterlife themselves than sit through this sleep-inducing film. At least the Morgan Freeman-narrated documentary is fascinating stuff, though even it’s not enough to recommend this as anything more than a cautious rental.
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Warner Home Video