Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter got so beaten up and ignored upon release that it’s easy to have a soft spot for it. At the time it was considered another a long line of Eastwood’s efforts to win more Oscars for himself and his cast and crew. But when Hereafter tanked, it became just another Eastwood misfire that’s bound to get lost in the shuffle of his latter career.
Matt Damon stars as a psychic who struggles with day to day life, as – in parallel stories – Cécile De France’s news reporter can’t quite come to grips with her near-death experience, and Frankie and George McLaren play twins Marcus and Jason, one of whom meets an untimely death. My review of the Blu-ray of Hereafter follows after the jump.
The film asks a question: What is the Eastwood touch? We’re now a number of films post his 2004’s Million Dollar Baby best picture win, and he’s been following in similar awards footsteps (something that picked up after 2003’s Mystic River) from the parallel war films of Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers in 2006, to the year of The Changeling and Grand Torino in 2008. But none of these films nor 2009’s Invictus have had any staying power. Then again, his Oscar bait pictures didn’t age that well upon release. Eastwood has directed 31 pictures at this point (not including J. Edgar, which is due next year unless it makes it for award season this year) and a full third of them come across as awards bait first and foremost.
Such raises questions about the image of Eastwood, whose figure as an icon of the west doesn’t necessarily translate to his body of directorial work. As an actor, he was of a very measured range that he knew how to play with. As a director his work is all over the map. And from that directorial body of work there’s no real through-line. He picks material that interests him, sometimes because it’s obviously a passion play (Bird, White Hunter Black Heart), other times because it’s too obvious not to do (say Sudden Impact, or Unforgiven). But as he’s grown older, he has fallen into make films for academy voters, for better or ill.
Hereafter is not his worst film, though there are arguments to that effect. The film tells the story of three narratives that must collide. What makes the film worthwhile is that Eastwood has always had a sense of people and people who work, so there’s a lived in feel for the movie. Damon’s psychic character is a labor guy, and everything that involves him feels lived in. And Eastwood knows the performers that work for him. He and Damon work exceptionally well together, as Damon delivers a grounded and haunted performance. But Eastwood is also strangely terrible at casting sometime, Jay Mohr plays Damon’s brother and it makes you scratch your head. But then Damon and Bryce Dallas howard have a couple scenes together that are rather great. Eastwood is consistently inconsistent these days. But he hasn’t worked with a script as good as Unforgiven since Unforgiven.
Alas, the narrative is garbage. What would seem (at least on the surface) to be a film about an older man struggling with the idea of mortality comes across as a half cooked “Angels are Among Us” narrative that never seems to fully commit to the vision. You need someone who believes in flights of fancy to make this stuff work, and Eastwood must have picked this material because it was ready – or something. Eastwood works to work at this point, and this material needed someone who believed in crazy religious spirituality, or someone wrestling with the idea of mortality. As that’s not the case, the film is vacuous.
But there is an Eastwood touch, and it’s that the director is often invested in the pauses, and the little moments of humanity that make great work. But those sequences only pop if the story is good. And here, he’s got a misfire.
Warner Brothers Blu-ray presents the film in Widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Surround. The film also comes with a DVD and digital copy. The Blu-ray comes with two extras, the “Focus Points” feature which can be viewed while watching the movie or in total (42 min.) that offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of the film, with interviews with the primary cast and crew. Snore. There’s also the documentary The Eastwood Factor (87 min.) which has narrator Morgan Freeman walking through Clint’s body of work. The highlight of this are the moments of Eastwood talking, but it’s mostly a clip show that brings up Dirty Harry without taking a penetrating look at the character. The film also ignores Eastwood’s Universal films, which are some of his more interesting – but does give time to Tightrope.