Clint Eastwood is one of the hardest working 80-year-old men on the planet, releasing a new film for nearly every year of the last decade, and collaborating on several others. Eastwood’s work ethic, multi-hyphenate status (director, actor, producer, composer), and choice of subject matter constantly raise the question, “What drove this man, this living legend, to pick this project?” His latest film, HEREAFTER, finally provides a reasonable answer: he’s simply getting older.
HEREAFTER contains three international, separate storylines bound to intersect: Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, a San Franciscan psychic who actually communicates with the dead; Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) is a French reporter whose near-death experience during a tsunami forces her to contemplate her life; and London-based Marcus (Frankie & George McClaren) is a boy whose twin brother Jason is killed in a tragic car accident.
George has long since stopped giving psychic readings for money. He considers his ability is a curse, but his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) talks George into doing a reading for an important client. The chain of events set off by George’s reading, as well as his relationship with a beautiful girl in his cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard, who looks nothing like her uncle Clint), pushes George to reconsider his own isolation. Marie, we see, also finds her life spiraling out of control post-tsunami, so she leaves her job as a sexy and famous news reporter to become a sexy and famous author. She begins to write a book, conveniently titled Hereafter, and speaks to Nobel Prize winners about what really happens when we die. Marcus, the son of a heroin addict and an empty soul without his twin brother, is shepherded to foster parents that he simply ignores. He desires most to communicate with his brother, looks things up on Youtube like “What happens when we die”, and steals money from his caretakers to speak with professional psychics and “communicators”. Marcus learns very quickly that he is surrounded by frauds and charlatans, but somehow one day stumbles upon George Lonegan’s outdated website – if only he could meet this man that might just be the real deal… Finally, all these characters’ quests for understanding what happens post-mortem lead them to a climactic book fair, where Derek Jacobi performs the most unnecessary but lovely cameo since Springsteen appeared in HIGH FIDELITY.
It may not seem necessary to include such a full summary of the film, but Eastwood spends so much time on the minutiae of their lives and the events leading up to the book fair that it only seems apt.
The script by Peter Morgan, best known for his brilliant representations of true stories in THE QUEEN and FROTS/NIXON, does not shy away from exploring important questions. What really happens when we die? Are there people out there who can communicate with spirits? What’s the relationship between coincidence and fate? Under Eastwood’s direction, the drama plays like a slower recombination of 21 GRAMS and THE LOVELY BONES, but the final sequence brings to mind sci-fi romantic-dramas like THE LAKE HOUSE. Eastwood is contemplating the HEREAFTER as he films it, and whether or not he has answers to Morgan’s questions is irrelevant; it is his characters’ journeys that are important.
At eighty, I suspect mortality is on Eastwood’s mind more than it may be for either of the McClaren twins or for Damon. This is evident, sometimes veering the film into sentimentality and melodrama, and it’s easy to get disoriented in a film that begins with a devastating (and masterfully realized) tsunami sequence. Performances, too, switch between powerfully affecting (de France’s turn will earn her a career in Hollywood if she so desires it, and it’s a treat to see Richard Kind in his second great role in as many years) and a bit flat (Damon’s Oscar film of 2011 will have to be the Coens’ TRUE GRIT).
Critics and fans alike continue to ask, “Is HEREAFTER an Academy Award contender?” and I suspect that people will be divided, since the film is uneven in it’s direction, screenwriting, acting, and even Eastwood’s tender score. But really, when considering with talent and strength of vision the idea of a hereafter, is that question even relevant?
HEREAFTER (October 22, 2010). Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Peter Morgan. Cast: George Lonegan – Matt Damon. Marie Lelay – Cecile De France. Marcus/Jason – Frankie McClaren. Marcus/Jason – George McClaren. Melanie – Bryce Dallas Howard. Christos – Richard Kind. Billy – Jay Mohr.