Like life itself, Hereafter is a sometimes tedious amble to a vaguely unsatisfying end. But, then again, there are plenty of small details that make it worth a go, and the ending, full of promise but no final answers is like, well, many of our conceptions of the actual hereafter. Or the void. Or whatever.
As a director, Clint Eastwood relies on traits from his earlier films, gorgeous location shots and strong acting, and ventures into some new territory, like an action film-worthy tsunami sequence and shots of the afterlife straight out of SyFy. He even scored the film.
Like all of his previous directorial efforts, this Eastwood joint retains a titanium emotional core, and that’s what sells this “thriller.” At its heart, writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon) has taken his studious depiction of real-life characters and put that talent to work making the unbelievable believable. Marie Lelay (Cecile de France) is a hard-hitting television journalist in Paris who literally gets swept away in a tsunami and comes out of it with what she calls “visions” from a near death experience. Further stretching the limits of credulity is George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a reluctant psychic who would rather work at a San Francisco sugar factory than make money off his ghost-whispering abilities. Finally, the most touching tale is of Marcus and Jason, two adorable twin scamps with a drug-addicted mum in merry old — sorry, I meant bleakly gray — England. The only thing truly unbelievable about the twins is that their lives could be so horrible.
The 130-minute film takes its sweet time setting up each character’s back story and prepping for a meet-up reminiscent of Crash or Babel. Indeed, more than a few scenes seemed far too long (Marcus walking into the London tube, Lonegan feeding a giggly gal pal during a cooking class, Lelay dining at numerous fancy Parisian restaurants), but the audience at least has a fuller conception of the characters. Each gives a different voice to our human reaction to death. Lonegan wants to run away from it, Lelay is obsessively curious, and Marcus just wishes it hadn’t come so soon for a loved one. At long last their paths intersect and each is able to help the other come to terms with their relationship to the hereafter. It’s an ending that seems a bit too neat, until you realize that an entire movie about the afterlife has not really posed any definite answers.
A thriller this ain’t, but it does leave the audience walking out of the theater pensively, waiting for what comes next.