In Clint Eastwood's storied career of playing no-nonsense toughguys, and directing no-nonsense, serious films, not once has he touched upon the supernatural. It's been all western gunfights and gritty crime thrillers, alternating with Very Serious Oscar Type Movies.

Which is why Hereafter, three interwoven narratives about death and the afterlife, seemed like such a promising idea. Who wouldn't want to see Eastwood's steady hand (and Peter Morgan's lauded pen) brought to the quote unquote fantasy genre? Sure, the reviews are mixed, but watch the trailer below- it certainly seems like they're swinging for the fences with the premise.

The problem is, it's really more of a sac bunt than anything. Eastwood treats the profound questions involved with his usual straightforward frankness, but Hereafter doesn't offer any answers. It doesn't even speculate about them for too long, really.

Instead, it seems to find itself profound for raising them in the first place, even though pretty much everyone alive has asked them for pretty much all of history. It's as if Eastwood and Morgan (who's mostly written historical dramas about real things and people) had actually never seen anything involving psychics who can talk to the dead, near-death experiences, or ghosts, and thought they had truly original concepts that could do all the heavy lifting for them.


Let's break it down. Matt Damon is a John Edward-type psychic who can speak to the dead, after briefly touching a bereaved loved one. Cécile de France is a French news anchor that has a near-death experience during a tsunami in Thailand and is moved to write a book about it. And Marcus is a young boy who's just lost his twin brother, Jason, and is all sad and stuff about it (amateurs Frankie and George McLaren play the twins, but we'll refer to them by character names since I don't know which plays which).

Eastwood apparently chose to cast amateur twin actors, and it pretty much shows, all the time, whenever they say anything. But Damon and de France are superb, and flourish as most good actors do under Eastwoods fast, hands-off direction. Bryce Dallas Howard shines in a supporting role despite some awful bangs as well.

And this film looks great- the opening, which follows de France through the tsunami, is breathtaking filmmaking, even if it was all CGI (no clue). Even the brief glimpses of the afterlife, which appears to be a bright white endlesses where everyone stands four feet apart in all directions for no reason, are tasteful and hazy.

It's just that Hereafter has nothing to say. The three plots converge in the end for brief moments of predictable frustration, and then the credits come up all at once. It's not really possible to get into this without spoilers, so...


Here's Hereafter in a nutshell: during the film, Damon writes two letters. The first is a letter explaining to his brother (Jay Mohr) that he won't be helping him relaunch his profitable medium business because he can't take the bad juju (dreams, making people cry, etc) associated with his ability. The second is a letter he writes to de France after he touches her hand at a book signing, and sees not a dead loved one but a brief glimpse of her near-death tsunami. It's like three pages long and causes her to meet him in a cafe at the end of the film.

Got that? Now which letter do you suppose the film helpfully has Damon read to us via voiceover? You would hope its the second one, full of information about seeing the afterlife, the connection he feels to another important character, and the relief that he's found someone he can touch without being bugged by her dead loved ones, right?

Nope. It's the brief note to his brother, which we can easily guess says "sorry, can't do this anymore," because that's what he's been saying the WHOLE FILM. It even paraphrases the film's worst line, which is about how it's not a gift, it's a CURSE, to have this ability, boo hoo, etc.

De France reads the second letter and this real emotional music plays, like there must be some really profound stuff there, but not one clue do we get on that front.

The other main plot intersection, when little Marcus runs into Damon as well and pesters him until he does a reading, is done well enough, but offers nothing unexpected. Marcus feels sad, Damon tells him his brother says to be strong, and so on. Then Damon says Jason, the dead brother, has left. Where did he go? Marcus asks. Damon doesn't know. Even after all those readings, he doesn't know.

So that's it, then. Huh.

Eastwood's dramas sometimes have a procedural, obligatory feel, but it's easy to forgive in things like Changeling and Mystic River (a literal procedural) because they build to some intense, cathartic scenes. Hereafter builds to one scene (Damon and Marcus) that's shrug-worthy and one unread letter/brief cafe meeting- there is one weird vision (Damon's... I guess?) of the two of them kissing, but then the film literally ends on them shaking hands.

It takes away nearly all of the weight any earlier events seemed to hold. I enjoyed the subplot where Damon's gift ruins a budding relationship with Bryce Dallas Howard, his partner in a cooking class, and maybe if the film had been framed as some-sort of death-tinged romantic comedy or something the ending with de France would have been satisfying ("Who can find love with all these CRAZY GHOSTS flying around!? This fall catch Matt Damon in Paranormal Connectivity!").


There's a scene halfway through Hereafter wherein Marcus runs away from his foster parents (his mom's a junkie, much time is spent on this for no reason at all) and goes to a series of crackpots and wannabes to communicate with his dead brother. Even with another subplot (via de France's book) about how legitimate afterlife research is shunned and scoffed at, the film wants to smirk and roll its eyes at these poseurs and charlatans, too.

Too bad Hereafter is right there among them, distracting us with tsunamis and subway explosions to hide the fact that it's got nothing real to offer us.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Gotta say the marketing really failed on this one. Look at that poster up there- it's all blue with the freaky scifi lines and all. And the shadowy figure in the distance- definitely thought we'd spend more than a few seconds in the afterlife. The trailer, meanwhile, puts the tsunami two thirds of the way through, making it seem like an escalation of events rather than the trigger of one of the plot threads. It seems more like "Hey some people were curious about the afterlife AND THEN EVERYTHING BLEW UP AAAAH."

-Fun to see Bobby Baccala from The Sopranos stretching his range to play an Italian chef. Jay Mohr, meanwhile, is always a slick douchebag who wants to exploit people, in everything.

-Just so we're clear, I might have enjoyed Hereafter in spite of its lack of answers if it had not answered them in a more interesting way. It's just that it seemed to be purposefully building to de France and Damon and the little kid meeting, and then backed off when they all got in the same place and had no idea what to do. Once Damon decides to go meet de France there's a scene where he asks for her in the lobby of her hotel and she isn't there. What purpose is served by him having to leave the MacGuffin note and meet her two scenes later?

-I realized I haven't seen very many but my favorite film about the afterlife is still Wristcutters: A Love Story

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