How on earth did this happen? How did this get made? How can such a talented director (Clint Eastwood) and an experienced writer (Peter Morgan) come together to concoct such a baffling disaster of a film. Hereafter is terrible. I have to be blunt about it. It really is truly awful.
The opening of the film is so good you can’t help but surrender yourself over into the hands of Eastwood, the great master. It features quite possibly the best natural disaster sequence ever filmed, showing a Tsunami tearing up the coast of Indonesia. Cecile De France, playing a French television journalist, gets swept away by the devastating wave, and the camera follows her journey through the relentless water until she is knocked unconscious. This scene is a masterpiece in itself, and over a thousand times better than the dull and monotonous destruction Roland Emmerich frequently serves up. But as Hereafter continues, it becomes clear that it’s just as poor as Emmerich’s mind-numbing recent blockbuster 2012.
Similar to The Hours, Babel and many other superior movies, Hereafter takes on a multi-character-strand narrative and attempts to connect them using a semi-pretentious ‘look how fate has brought us all together’ sensibility. But where it worked for these films, here it just emphasises the messy nature of Morgan’s weak script. Story one: Cecile De France experiences visions of a potential afterlife when she nearly dies in Indonesia. She tries to convince people back in Paris there is a ‘hereafter’ but they are having none of it. Story two: Matt Damon, in the USA, can see the same afterlife, though has retired from being a professional Psychic as it makes him feel like a freak. He attends cooking classes and befriends Bryce Dallas Howard. They spoon-feed each other food in the sexy way and share life histories. Big mistake. Story three: A London school boy’s twin brother is hit by a car and dies. He’s taken into care when his heroin addicted mother cannot look after him.
These three plotlines all come to a head at a London book fair where Derek Jacobi reads passages of Dickens to promote his new audiobook of Little Dorrit. I am aware how bizarre this sounds (believe me, I had to sit through it), but I would forgive the film all its quirky aspects if it offered anything in the way of riveting drama. Sadly, it does not. For the majority of the running time it is hard not to wonder why you paid over £6 to see Matt Damon chopping tomatoes or watch a terrible child actor deliver emotional lines at his dying brother’s side with all the conviction of a show-and-tell primary school presentation.
Clint Eastwood’s directorial flare has developed into something extraordinary through his more recent pictures (highlights being Million Dollar Baby and Changeling), but here it is only fleetingly seen. The most memorable moment, aside from the GCI festival at the start, is when Damon gives Bryce Dallas Howard a psychic reading. What he manages to unearth from a touch of her hands results in broken hearts on both sides. It’s a superbly handled scene that deserves to be part of a much better movie. The rest of the film is tedious and trying, particularly when we see repeated shots of Cecile De France typing away on Macbook to prove she is A SERIOUS TROUBLED JOURNALIST WITH LOTS OF IMPORTANT SHIT TO SAY. She also wanders through the streets of Paris and stares around restaurants with a vacant expression. We are meant to believe she’s haunted by the visions she saw in her near death experience, but she may as well be debating what to have for tea. That may be easily sorted though as the final shot of the film, without giving too much away, features her standing outside Pizza Express. How deep.
Eastwood lovers need not lose sleep over this. The great man is set up to direct a biopic of J. Edgar Hoover, and I have every confidence he will return to his usual high standard. His back catalogue has a much stronger voice than this small mistake, and every director is allowed one terrible movie. It’s just a shame it had to be quite so terrible.
Good: Flashes of classic Eastwood are there, though they’re easy to miss.
Bad: Uninteresting characters and limp storytelling. And you expect much more from Clint.