A film like Hereafter could easily become exploitative. Playing on people’s emotions in connection to death or the hopefullness connected to the afterlife. Pandering to crowds looking for a definitive answer regarding what the afterlife might look like. In the theater I attended there were hordes of senior citizens, on a Sunday morning. There are two things that could contribute to this: Heavy advertising in AARP magazine due to Clint Eastwood’s involvement or seniors are looking for answers due to their own looming mortality. Now, this is not to imply that Hereafter exploits these notions, but perhaps the way the film was marketed implied there were answers to be found.
In Hereafter Matt Damon plays a psychic that can communicate with the dead. The real deal, not some phony. This isn’t the only story thread running through the film, however. The focus goes back and forth between Damon’s George, a French journalist named Marie who has a near death experience, and a set of twins, named Marcus and Jason, living in England, who are dealing with a tragedy of their own. As the film oscillates between the various locales and lives, the subject of death is dealt with on various levels. Near death, direct death, and after death. The idea is to show the ways in which death can manifest itself in daily life.
Without having seen the film, only the preview materials available, it looked as if Damon and his sixth sense were the main focus of the film, but his storyline shares the spotlight evenly with the others. And if it wasn’t obvious from the trailers or synopsis, which it really should be, the three threads tie together eventually to bring the story to a close. How it happens is a different story all together. It was refreshing how the stories each had a life of their own and eventually intertwined, but I wasn’t in love with the manner in which they all came together. As always I remain spoiler free, but I will say that the device that brings the characters together was a bit of a stretch.
Stretchy ending or not, the acting is quite masterful. With Eastwood, and his decades of film experience, at the helm, there was no doubt that the performances were going to shine amidst the gloomy subject matter of the film. Damon puts what is needed into his role, despite the lackluster manner in which his character was written. Belgian actress, Cécile De France (go figure) shows amazing range as she goes from ultra confident to timidly hesitant. Her’s is really the role to watch. The one truly wasted actor in the film is Bryce Dallas Howard. I would be lying to say I was a huge fan, but I have typically enjoyed her on screen and always look forward to opportunities to see more of her. In Hereafter she is under utilized and written as a bit of a bimbo. Now, these people exist in real life of course, but that didn’t really seem to be what the script needed. Howard, like many of the other actors, made lemonade out of a lemon script, but shouldn’t have needed to.
The story is truly unique, but it unfolds inorganically, and starts to feel false at certain points. The first ten minutes of the film are intense and hooked me in immediately. From there on the main focuses are introduced and established. We get a sense of what is in store for these characters and genuinely want to see what happens. In the second act, however, the stories begin to teeter on the edge, and don’t progress naturally. There are several moments that seem shoehorned in for the sake of progressing the film, and don’t fit with the overall story or individual arcs. By the finale, the film pulls it together, despite the loose thread tying, but it’s too little too late.
If you can forgive tired and clichéd dialogue (“It’s my gift and my curse”) and uneven story execution, Hereafter is actually a pretty intriguing film. Conceptually, that is. In a world where death is treated lightly or is sometimes glorified as a means to an end, Hereafter shows the aftermath of such losses. For that reason alone the film is worth a viewing. My recommendation, however, is to wait until it is resurrected on home video, then give it a look.