Hereafter (2010)

If you didn’t know it, Hereafter is Clint Eastwood’s thirty-fourth film in the director’s chair and sadly, it is mostly a cinematic train wreck from start to finish.  What begins as a disaster film quickly turns into a pedestrian drama split between the lives of three people who have about as much in common as the premise does with the plot.  Three everyday people touched by death.  That’s it.  I like Clint Eastwood, a lot actually, though it was painful to sit through this story without wondering what he was thinking.  It’s not that Hereafter is a bad film, it’s far worse, operating at a level so inferior to Eastwood’s previous films like Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby one might confuse Hereafter as the work of an amateur just out of film school with a rich uncle and no one to curtail the bad script from becoming a bad film.

What is most troubling about Hereafter is the choice to follow three relatively average people through the course of their average lives as they have experienced death in one fashion or another.  A French Journalist survives a tsunami and is forever changed, a self-determined blue-collar American former psychic conceals himself at the C&H sugar factor in the Bay Area where he doesn’t have to touch anyone and consequently invoke his gift of connecting with their dead friends and relatives, and lastly a London boy who loses his brother and embarks on a journey to talk to him again.  It all sounds like fertile ground but the narrative twists and turns are stretched thin and cumbersome, the connections left uncertain or muddied altogether until well into the second act and by that time we’ve nearly lost all interest in who these people are, much less about their predicaments.  Other films have suffered from too many narrative threads, too many characters bumping around their ordinary worlds before colliding into one another for some purpose that isn’t readily clear until much later – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2006 film Babel about a married couple and the interlocking stories of four different families immediately comes to mind.  It’s not that this technique cannot be accomplished successfully – consider Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999).  Hereafter spends too much time with the burden of ordinary and forgets along the way that we need more than reflections of our own life at the theater – we need questions about the living and the dead as much as we need answers.

Eastwood makes many mistakes throughout the film that are perhaps signs that his keen sense of story and masterful work with actors is beginning to wane.  The characters in this film never break a sweat, fail to breathe in the heavy air of conflict or react in grand fashion to the events happening to them or nearby.  The story purports to explore the subject of death and those left behind, of the possible connection between this world and the world or worlds that might exist beyond this one yet we never fully grasp the importance of such examination.  Matt Damon seems lost as a loner who takes a cooking class to maybe meet someone or just have something to do with his hands that doesn’t involve touching anyone.  However he quickly meets Bryce Dallas Howard who is there for much the same reason but their relationship is plot driven, devoid of real character development and as a result it ends far too soon to be effective.  The death experiences of the other characters are no less realized, often drawn out and convoluted to the point it is challenging to care about the business of journalism from the inside out or the troubles of single mothers and dead children.  All these elements make for solid starting points but they are never taken to an emotionally engaging confrontation.  By the time anything interesting happens we’re pushed up against the end of the film and a rush to tie up loose ends, make eventual bed fellows of strangers, and resolve the trouble with seeing dead people and telling their stories.

Hereafter was described by someone as Eastwood’s best.  I might go so far to say it is his worst but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to what he will do next or how he’ll change or stay the same, his cinematic language well-defined even when it fails to reach his audience.


About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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12 Responses to Hereafter (2010)

  1. Rodney says:

    Yeah, I’d heard a few negative things about this film too, although not in so many direct words. I’ll still give this a shot, mind you, because I’m always keen to see another Eastwood flick while he’s going strong.
    The problem with films revolving around death as a core theme is that filmmakers tend to overemphasize the finality and fear of death most people have, making most films feel leaden and humorless. It takes a brave director to try something new, and I hate to say it, but it sounds like Eastwood’s tried and failed in this regard. He loses no points for trying, though. Even the best have an off day.
    Not to sure I liked your dig at Babel, though – a film I contend as one of the best of the last decade: my review is here :
    Great review as usual Rory. I haven’t seen Hereafter, but even in light of some negative criticism I’ll still pick it up on BluRay upon release.

    • rorydean says:

      I didn’t actually even get around to writing about the ‘death’ element as it seemed more of a plot device than an important, emotionally executed consequence of the characters interaction or their particular journeys. I’ll be curious to read your thoughts on it. I went in with middle-of-the-road expectations as I had disliked the trailer quite a bit and given, as you mention, the trouble veteran and freshman filmmakers have with the subject of death, dying and moving on – well, I had some pretty big reservations going in. I just finished reading your review of Babel, left you some notes and started my own review of it — I’ll post it in a couple of days.

      • Rodney says:

        WOOT! Can’t wait!

        As an aside, I’m glad Matt Damon is keeping himself occupied with a variety of film genres, rather than be typecast as his Jason Bourne action character all the time. Even if this film blows, I always find Damon gives a solid performance each time out. Your thoughts?

      • rorydean says:

        I have to agree, Matt Damon is really one of the best actors in the biz these days — and it is always refreshing to see an actor that clearly dominates one genre (in this case action) move into other areas. I liked him quite a bit in Good Will Hunting and vastly more than DiCaprio in Scorsese’s The Departed. He was also superb in The Talented Mr. Ripley. So that being said, yeah you have to watch this one for Damon alone.

  2. Randall says:

    Accurate reveiw once again. I wish I had read it before I spent money or time on the movie. Keep it up.

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Randall – glad I could be helpful. Of course if you’re a die hard fan of either Eastwood or Damon, or maybe both than the film might affect you differently. I liked watching some of the DVD extras that explored the big action sequence at the beginning of the film, the making of, the water work, etc., but ultimately when the story and characters fail I have very little to hold onto and consequently jump ship.

      • Paul says:

        What makes being a ‘die hard fan’ so important? Can’t you be objective about the movies you watch without prejudice and bias getting in the way? Or maye what you’re saying is big action is no replacement for story and characters on a ship sinking from the get-go.

      • rorydean says:

        Paul – like I wrote above and elsewhere (see Django Unchained) – of course bias and prejudice is going to find a way into our work but we have to focus on how the film makes us feel, ask big questions and try to come up with sound answers or in the least, make a point and support it. I’ve done that here and hopefully throughout my blog. Challenge me, I invite all takers and welcome the discussions. cheers0>

  3. eduardo says:

    Was it the subject that you disliked or the acting with Damon as the unbelievable psychic looking to heal himself but avoiding everyone around him? What about Moyr?

    • rorydean says:

      Well, I think I cover this in my review but ultimately the film fails at the most basic level of storytelling in that the characters are under developed, the plot is cumbersome and unnecessarily fragmented, and the overall aesthetic is listless and uninteresting. As I’ve written elsewhere, if you’re a fan of either Damon or Eastwood, or perhaps both you might gleam something further from the film but otherwise I’d recommend just about any of their other films to date.

  4. Paul says:

    The closure I get to figuring out your style and what you like and dislike the more I think i’ll never get anywhere close to the parking lot outside your opinions. From here, I gotta say it looks and sounds like a theory but I’m not convinced you have it down pact.

    • rorydean says:

      Paul – thanks for SO MUCH COMMENTS all over the blog. What was your process of responding, did you pick movies you like and were challenged by my comments or something else?

      “Parking lot outside your opinions” – damn I love that line!

      Absolutely, this whole thing is a work in progress. My life is a work in progress! I’m learning every day I’m above ground 🙂

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