Much like Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood wastes no time churning out fresh cinema. Since 1971, he’s made over 30 films. Save a few rare exceptions (Unforgiven) his films didn’t coast into greatness until 2003, when he released the work of art that is Mystic River.
In Hereafter, Eastwood gets his action out of the way early. In an epic, horrific sequence, a tsunami wipes out an entire town, with Eastwood’s camera right in the thick of it. Once the dust settles, we’re introduced to three different characters on three parts of the globe.
Marie (Cecile De France), a popular journalist in Paris, is having trouble coping with her near-death experience in the tsunami. Marcus (twins Frankie and George McLaren) is having trouble coping with a horrible accident in London, and George (Matt Damon) is having trouble coping with himself.
Despite its trailer, I didn’t find Hereafter as a film describing what happens to us after death. I found it as a film describing how those of us affected by death deal with our loss. Slow but never boring, Eastwood’s film is full of tender moments that, in lesser hands, might have come off as laughable.
Take an extended sequence that starts in a cooking class and ends at the bottom of a set of stairs. In the scene, Damon and his cooking partner (played to innocent perfection by Bryce Dallas Howard) take turns blind-tasting foods. Watch how their movements, unseen by the other actor, are countered in perfect rhythm.
The scene leads the two back to Damon’s San Francisco apartment where things do not go where we think they are going. The words they exchange force Howard to leave, but not before falling apart at the bottom of the stairs. Now, watch her. Really watch her. As Howard (daughter of Ron) slides to the ground and begins to sob uncontrollably, we notice something that we aren’t used to. We can’t see her face; it’s shielded by her long, amber hair. For an actress to block her face during her “Oscar moment” takes some serious balls. It is a test of courage that I can only assume Howard learned from her gifted auteur.
Most people won’t like Hereafter, simply because it doesn’t deliver at the same level of power we’ve been used to seeing in Eastwood’s film. It has earned false comparison to Babel (it isn’t nearly as good or gut-wrenching). What it is, however, is a subtle, meditative feature that takes its time, but, in the end, is ultimately worth the trip. B+