Cantering gracefully through his twilight years, Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood is really cutting the mustard these days as one of the most interesting and intelligent directors in the industry. He’s prodigious, too, churning out film after film with nary a dud amongst them. Think Million Dollar Baby, The Changeling, Gran Torino (likely to be Eastwood’s acting swan song) and last year’s Invictus (a film about rugby? In South Africa?! I’m in!); all great pieces of grown-up modern cinema-making. Now we can add Hereafter to the list and whilst it’s not a film which did enormous Box Office business (and certainly didn’t garner the usual glowing Eastwood notices), it’s one of those striking, studied movies which is likely to stay with you far longer than one of your more typical quick-fix action movies. Hereafter is a film more suited to home viewing than in the Multiplex and it’s here that I suspect it’ll build its reputation and find its true appreciative audience.
Hereafter is Eastwood’s first foray into the world of the supernatural and his first large-scale (if brief) involvement with the heady world of CGI. The movie introduces us to three main characters as they all skirt the fringes of the world of the ‘hereafter’. French journalist Marie Lelay (Cecile de France) suffers a near-death experience when a devastating tsunami rages through her tropical holiday resort. London schoolboy Marcus finds his world torn apart when his twin brother Jason is killed in a road accident and Marcus is taken into care due to his mother’s drug addiction. Over in San Francisco, reluctant psychic George (Matt Damon) is trying to ignore his ability to communicate with the dead and forge a normal life working in a factory. How the stories of these three characters slowly converge forms the backbone of this slow-burn movie as Eastwood, working from a script by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), invites the audience to draw its own conclusions about the nature of the 'Hereafter' and the ability of the living to experience it whilst leaving us in no doubt that George has very clearly defined psychic abilities and is able to communicate with the dead.
Hereafter is a satisfying and compelling dramatic experience because Eastwood isn't a showy director. He lets his story take its time to unravel - which is probably why the film comes in for critcism for its graceful pace - largely relying on character rather than action. But the film kicks off in blockbuster style with the brilliantly-realised tsunami sequence as raging torrents of seawater sweep all in their wake, a monolithic demonstration of the terrifying and destructive power of Nature. The film doesn't linger on the plight of Marie in the wake of the tsunami, instead introducing us to psychic George (a mature and restrained performance from the increasingly-impressive Matt Damon) and then Marcus and Jason, two kids living in a South London tower block trying to protect their drug-addled mother from the attentions of Social Services. Back in France Marie follows her own obsession with her near-death experience at the expense of her own career, George meets up with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) at a cookery class (the extended two-hander between Damon and Howard in George's apartment is a beautifully-realised intimate character piece) and Marcus, devastated by the death of his brother and aching with the loss, becomes determined to find a way to contact Jason one last time.
It's easy to see why Hereafter didn't make a connection at the Box Office as it's a languid, unhurried piece generally pretty much out of kilter with the bulk of Hollywood's big bang output. It's got its faults, of course. It could do with getting a bit of a move on in places, the two London kids are crippled by the fact they can't act and the denoeument, which sees the three main characters all at the same place in London at the same time, is achingly-contrived. But these are pretty much minor quibbles in a movie as individual and, I suspect, as memorable as Hereafter. Here's to the next one from the Eastwood production line...
Hereafter is out now on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK