Hereafter (from Clint Eastwood)
HEREAFTER is a strange film. Clint Eastwood attempted to tell a story about death and what happens to us after death, but he told it in his signature, overly sappy fashion that the movie seemed to be fighting itself the entire time. He would come so close to making a point with the film, but then would sacrifice any chance he had by focusing on something that wasn’t important. The complete lack of focus made for a frustrating film that never knew what it wanted to be and ended up being nothing.
Perhaps the first issue with the movie is that we’re looking at three separate stories that really have nothing in common. One person has a near-death experience, one person loses their brother and the other has the ability to communicate with the dead. Yes, death is the theme between them, but their stories are not intertwined until the very end and even then it felt forced. It’s also tough to get involved with any of these characters since we don’t spend enough time with them to establish emotional attachments. So when things go bad for them, we don’t really care. It’s always good to make the audience ask questions, but when the question is “what’s the point”, you’ve probably done something wrong.
The underlying theme or statement that Eastwood is getting at with HEREAFTER is that everyone goes to the same place when they die, regardless of race, religion or any other belief. Unfortunately, this was just barely touched on when Marie (Cecile De France) discusses it briefly with a hospice doctor. That idea is not only great, but it can be proven with the millions of near-death experiences people have had around the world. Imagine the religious implications this idea has and the effect it would have on society if it could somehow be proven. This should have been the focus of the film and the common bond that tied everyone together. With that being the focus, you have something the audience could react to and establish characters we could care about. Unfortunately, it just dangled on screen like the proverbial carrot that was never obtained.
As great as Eastwood is, he does have a tendency to be overdramatic. Rarely do his overdramatic tendencies hurt the story he’s trying to tell, but HEREAFTER is a case where the story and focus lacked in favor of trying to get the audience to cry, albeit unsuccessfully. There’s a good story and a good idea somewhere in here and it probably revolved around George (Matt Damon) and his ability to speak to the dead. Having your one A-list actor separated from everyone else for the majority of the film is usually not a good idea because people are just waiting to get back to him. But even if they had eliminated the other storylines, we still needed something to actually happen in the movie for it to pay off.
I appreciate Eastwood making a film about death, especially at this point in his career, but he should have spent more time thinking about what he wanted to say about the subject. There were some good ideas floating around that would have been great to explore deeper, but we just never made it that far.