In the trailers, shots of a tsunami and a smoking London tube station tell us to expect disasters. From all over the world, people track down Matt Damon, who used to be a psychic but really doesn’t want to communicate with dead people. ‘Hereafter’ seemingly mixes up the best of M. Night Shyamalan and Roland Emmerich.
Unfortunately, the trailers are a total misrepresentation of the film itself. Clint Eastwood’s examination of death and the afterlife is a slower, more contemplative piece that is neither epic nor particularly supernatural.
‘Hereafter’ is split into three stories. French TV journalist Marie (Cécile de France) has a near-death experience and becomes fascinated with researching the afterlife. American ex-psychic George (Damon) struggles to shut out his ability to communicate with the dead, taking on manual labour and night-time cookery classes in an attempt to live a normal life. English schoolboy Marcus (twins Frankie and George McLaren) fails to cope with losing a loved one, and tries to reestablish contact.
The point of the 3-story approach is that death is a universal theme. ‘Hereafter’ aims to address the concept of death, and our attitudes towards the afterlife, from different angles. It’s a good idea, but it is let down by terrible scripting. Peter Morgan’s script shows no direction, no cohesion and clearly no idea what he was trying to do.
Out of the three stories, only George’s has any real strength. The origin of his mystic gift/curse, and his choice to abandon it, is interesting but underdeveloped. A sub-story, in which he unintentionally sees into the past of his cooking partner/love interest (Bryce Dallas Howard), is brushed off and never picked up again.
George’s story, most of which can be seen in the trailers, only accounts for 1/3rd of the film. It’s almost possible to see Matt Damon’s frustration at having so little to work with. It is a shame, because a little more time and focus could have resulted in something special. The remaining 2/3rds of the film is spent drifting between irrelevance and tedium.
Marie’s story begins strongly, but it takes a wrong turn and she ends up spending her time between euthanasia clinics and Google. Marcus’s story is the worst by far, made even more unbearable by the acting. Frankie and George McLaren, who took turns playing Marcus, are quite possibly the worst child actors that the world has ever seen. There is no emotion, and the dialogue is read off the floor in a stiff monotone that would have been embarrassing even in nativity play.
The three storylines inevitably converge, but they take an age to do so. The narratives are so unrelated that it would have been better just to leave them entirely separate. Instead, they are mashed together at the end, almost as an afterthought. The inclusion of real-world disasters also feels contrived – the narrative does so little with these events (and in such a half-hearted manner) that they just stick out as somebody’s failed attempt to be clever.
The film is not all bad and ugly. The opening tsunami (supposedly the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami), is the highlight of ‘Hereafter’ and an example of one of the handful of effective scenes. The visual effects are impressive and the destruction feels so realistically chaotic that perhaps Clint Eastwood should have directed ‘2012’.
‘Hereafter’ has some good ideas that do deserve examination and the direction is as sharp as any of Eastwood’s recent efforts but ultimately, the project was doomed by the clueless writing. Much of Eastwood’s recent successes were down to the simple, well-written scripts. Hopefully he will be more careful with his choices in the future. Or step back in front of the camera.