Hereafter (Review)

HEREAFTER
(10/15/10; Drama, Fantasy)
Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Lyndsey Marshal, Thierry Neuvic, Bryce Dallas Howard
SCR: Peter Morgan
DIR: Clint Eastwood
MPAA: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.
2 hours 9 mins
BOX: $32,746,941

George (Damon) is an American factory worker with the gift (curse) of being able to communicate with the dead. Reeling from a lifetime of isolation because of his ability, he takes a cooking class and meets Melanie (Howard), hoping for a fresh start; Marie (de France) is a French journalist who survives a horrifying tsunami, and obsesses over her brush with death to understand the vision she experienced; Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is a British boy able to endure life with his heroin-addicted mother because of a loving relationship with his twin. In one horrible moment, his brother is killed while they are talking on the phone.

Eventually, all three stories converge in a way that is as contrived as it is satisfying. Eastwood approaches the material seriously, eliciting strong performances from his acting ensemble and giving each episode its own feel. The tsunami sequence is harrowing, the combination of epic destruction (the FX were nominated for an Oscar) and up-close intimacy is truly unsettling. The movie has gotten rapped for its sentimentality, but it’s hard to be cynical when the subject is heart-wrenching loss.

Morgan, an outstanding screenwriter (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), does allow himself some dialogue clunkers (most of which appear in the awful trailer) but deserves credit for other moments that are hauntingly beautiful. At his new foster home, the boy who loses a twin can only sleep when there is an empty bed next to him. The scene in which Howard presses Damon for a reading and becomes slowly embarrassed by the messages from the other side could be a brilliant short film.

Steven Spielberg is an executive producer and it’s easy to see why he would be drawn to the material: Marie’s story arc, which has her obsessing over her near-death experience and uncovering a hidden subculture, reminded me of the second half of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Okay, sure: it all wraps up rather neatly. But considering how difficult it is to tell a story dealing with spirituality and metaphysical aspects without becoming mawkish or pandering, Eastwood and Morgan pull off quite a hat trick.

Trust me on this one: avoid the trailer. It reveals too much and sells the movie like Hallmark TV flick. It’s one of the worst trailers to a good movie I’ve ever seen. (Warner Bros.)

— DENNIS WILLIS

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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