Theatrical Review: HEREAFTER
Writer: Peter Morgan
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Jay Mohr, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard
Studio: Warner Bros.
Clint Eastwood’s latest, HEREAFTER, attempts to tackle some of the biggest questions a human can ever lob at the universe – the meaning of death, the existence of heaven, the power of love – through three somewhat interlocking stories. George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a former psychic who has spent too much time communing with the dead. Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) has touched death in a tragic natural disaster. Young Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) has endured a crushing personal loss.
But for a film that should smack of high emotion and personal connections, HEREAFTER is almost stunningly flat, rarely daring to embrace the enormity of the questions it ostensibly asks.
The film’s various stories are not what sink this enterprise, however. Juggling the film’s three storylines could be difficult, but Morgan's script keeps our number of players within each story limited and lean. Don't be fooled, this is nothing like BABEL or its multi-storyline, multi-player ilk, there are no hidden connections waiting to be revealed in HEREAFTER until they’re organically made in the film’s final twenty minutes. And what a twenty minutes it is – finally joining our three leads together, only to draw us to one conclusion that’s so strangely disconnected from the lofty ideas the film seemed to be about that it can elicit nothing but cinematic whiplash. Really? That’s what we’ve worked toward? That’s the point?
On a purely technical level, the film looks fine (despite one spat of laughable CGI during the film’s otherwise remarkable big disaster sequence and some background extras who are either too stiff or too hammy). However, one would hope that, in a film that is supposed to be about, I don’t know, the hereafter, Eastwood’s visual representation of heaven and the afterlife would be anything beyond achingly pedestrian. When Marie declares that she’s had visions, it’s a very loose use of the term indeed. It’s in contrast to the rest of the film, which seems made for a big movie theater screen to showcase its well-crafted bits – from lighting to location to production design.
But in an ensemble piece like HEREAFTER, it really is performance that is key to holding all our threads together. Matt Damon takes on a different sort of role than he is normally used to with George, and he admirably succeeds. Simply put, Damon is easily the best part of the generally uninspired film that is HEREAFTER. And though this may be an odd word choice to qualify a male performance – Damon is really just lovely here. In many ways, George should be the most distant and most “fantastic” of the characters – but Damon makes him startlingly real. As a testament to Damon’s performance in the film – while Marie and Marcus both endure much more public, large-scale tragedies, it is when we watch George plow through the smaller, much more personal daily pains of a broken life (his loneliness, his brother’s misunderstanding) that HEREAFTER actually reaches some emotional heights.
Damon’s fine, layered performance is quite in opposition to Jay Mohr as his brother, who spends the entire film looking as if he is mugging to someone just past the camera, “look! I’m in a Clint Eastwood movie! I can’t believe it either!” Bryce Dallas Howard’s supporting role as Melanie is surprisingly small, and though her chemistry with Damon is very good indeed, it derails some of their scenes. Their longest take together quickly starts to resemble, oddly enough, some sort of B-level romantic comedy. If close-talking is sexy, Howard should be on the cover of Maxim. Otherwise, it’s consistently laughable and mildly uncomfortable.
But for a film that seems to be speaking to the greater mysteries of life, HEREAFTER falls startlingly flat. And I say “it seems to be speaking,” and not just a straight “speaking” or “aiming” or “seeking,” because there is something about HEREAFTER that is so boringly off-the-mark that it almost falls to the side of stooping to the lowest common denominator that could make up its audience. While the film doesn’t exactly feel dumbed down, I cannot help but wonder if there is an earlier version of the script that isn’t so absolutely non-confrontational and non-controversial. We’re meant to believe that Marie’s book on the very subject the film covers will catapult her straight into disgraced nut territory, but there’s nothing in HEREAFTER that speaks strongly enough to warrant any sort of strong reaction from its audience.
HEREAFTER opens in limited release this Friday, October 15, with full expansion on Friday, October 22.
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