Life after death is a pretty universal topic, so it seems only natural that Clint Eastwood's latest directorial venture would take the story international. Hereafter is a Hollywood examination of what happens after we die. While not really focusing on a particular religious belief, Hereafter offers a somewhat worldly viewpoint on what could happen after death. The story focuses on three separate characters and how they each are confronted with death in different ways. The film opens where a French journalist, named Marie Lelay, on vacation when a tsunami hits (which is disturbingly timely considering what just happened recently in Japan). Marie basically dies and is resuscitated back to life, now preoccupied with the near death experience. Meanwhile, twin boys living in London have to stick together while their single mother is frequently trashed. One of the twins ends up dying and he has to now face his lonely life without his closest confidant. Finally, Matt Damon stars as a retired psychic named George Lonegan who has the extraordinary gift of touching someone and instantly connecting with a person close to them who has passed on. He desperately wants to leave this life behind but seems unable to shake it. As the film progresses, the stories start to intertwine and the film finds its much needed cohesiveness.
To be honest, Hereafter isn't usually my kind of film, but with Damon starring and Eastwood behind the camera, I was interested in checking this one out -- especially since it's Eastwood's investigation into the afterlife (which is something close to every Christian's heart). I had originally assumed that the film was mostly about Damon's character and was a little surprised to see that there were three separate stories being told for much of the film's two-hour running time. But Eastwood takes a dramatic and story-centric approach to directing. Although there's an effects-laden tsunami destruction sequence at the film's start, Hereafter is clearly NOT an action film or even a disaster film. The tsunami is merely a plot piece that enables the character to be in the position she's in for the story's sake. What Eastwood has created here is a drama consisting of skilled direction and fantastic acting. Damon is reserved (even more so than in the recent The Adjustment Bureau) and plays the troubled soul very, very well. He's a quiet man with a gentle spirit but constantly battling inside with the cards he's been dealt in life. He views his "gift" as a curse, while others see it as nothing else but a gift. Damon plays George wonderfully, giving plenty of depth to the lonely heart who seems to be losing hope that he could have any semblance of a normal life. French actress Cécile De France makes her American film debut here and is given ample amounts of screen time. Luckily, Cécile has a charm and warmth to her character of Marie and it's easy enough to get pulled into her storyline.
The topic of "the hereafter" takes center stage near the middle of the film as one of the twins is searching for answers, Marie begins researching the afterlife and George finds that he can't really escape his past. Through the twin's search for truth, we see him looking at videos on YouTube from religious scholars talking about life after death. The first video seems to be a sort of Middle Eastern teacher talking about it, to which the boy eventually ends abruptly and opts for a second, considerably shorter video that simply shows a man in black stating that if you believe in Christ, there should be no fear of death. The video lasts about 10 seconds, and after the man says that, the boy just shakes his head. Not a single other mention of Christianity, Jesus or even God are mentioned in the film (aside from a brief church funeral scene). I found this to be kind of odd, but I could tell that Eastwood and the script writer were trying to keep it as politically correct and accessible as possible. As pure entertainment or food for thought, the film succeeds through its stellar acting and direction, but the movie leaves more questions than answers with sort of a "hey, no one really knows" approach to the topic. In the twin boy's quest to contact his lost brother, he tries meeting with several different psychics who all turn out to be frauds. The only true "psychic" in the film appears to be Damon's George, who takes it all seriously without any bells or whistles. There's no crystal ball and there doesn't even seem to be a New Age angle to his abilities -- the guy can just simply connect with and listen to dead loved ones of those he comes in contact with. But viewers sensitive to such spiritual topics would do well to exhibit caution before seeing a film like this one. There's no basis in scripture or Christianity but there also doesn't seem to be a hidden agenda either. As Eastwood is now, himself, in his 80's, it's obvious that this subject matter is on his mind and he's definitely soul searching.
The content is mixed for this PG-13 film. There's 1 distinct "F" word used by actor Richard Kind within the first few minutes of the film, and it's more than totally unnecessary. It feels included just because it could be. Other language is limited to just a couple uses of the "s" word and a few other cuss words, as well as a few uses of "Oh my G-d." We do learn that Marie and her boss are sleeping together in what is possibly an affair, but there are no sexual situations seen. However, we do see Marie while she's taking a bath (but no explicit nudity is shown) and we see her in her underwear on at least one occasion. Finally, Marie has some abrasions on her face after the tsunami hits (which is a pretty intense sequence by itself) and we see a boy get hit by a bus and die (with some blood around his head when we see his body lying on the ground). Thematically, it's a heavy movie and not one that fans of Damon's lighter or more action-oriented films may be interested in.
Overall, Hereafter is a good drama, but it will probably stir more questions for those interested in the topic of the afterlife than answer them (but I don't think the film sets out to answer questions either). It's masterfully executed - from casting to direction - but the film is unmistakably a drama and may even be considered boring by many of Damon's core fans. I can't say it's a movie I'll revisit much (if at all) in the future, but I can see the value in the performances in the film and what Eastwood was attempting to create. The film also offers a satisfying ending for the central characters, which adds to the enjoyablility of the movie, but due to its subject matter; which involves near-death, death of a child and sibling, and communicating with the dead; it's a difficult film to recommend and is far from just the popular theatrical fluff.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/16/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Warner Bros. Blu-Ray release of Hereafter offers a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack for those who loved this movie enough to want to take it just about anywhere with them. There aren't a lot of bonus features on the Blu-Ray disc, but what's included is still pretty decent...
Step Into The Hereafter (42:26) - As with many Warner Bros. releases these days, the studio has been mixing all of the featurettes into an interactive format so viewers can access them while watching the movie. This isn't really the ideal way to watch bonus material (at least, not to me, since it causes an interruption in the movie), and Warner has thought this through, making each bonus feature available separately and even with its own play-all option. "Step Into The Hereafter" is nearly 45 minutes long, broken up into 9 segments devoted to the making of the film and even the topic of life after death (The segments are: "Tsunami! Recreating A Disaster," "Is There Life After Death," "Clint On Casting," "Delving Into The Hereafter," "Twin Bonding," "French Speaking French," "Why the White Light," "Hereafter's Locations - Casting The Silent Characters" and "The Eastwood Experience). As a whole, the featurettes offer some interesting insight into the making of the film, while also delving into the subject matter as well. Through this, we hear from the cast and crew about their thoughts on life after death (some believe in it, some don't), and we even hear from a self-proclaimed psychic on the matter. There's a special feature devoted entirely to twins and we learn that producer Kathleen Kennedy (who many might recognize from a great number of major films she's produced) has a twin sister and we see them together in an interview. Lastly, the cast and crew shift the focus to filmmaker Clint Eastwood himself and share their excitement and enthusiasm for working with the Hollywood legend.
The Eastwood Factor - Extended Version (1:28:27) - Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this feature-length documentary covers the career of Eastwood since his start as an actor and appears to have been made around the time of the Eastwood-directed Invictus, which also starred Damon and Freeman. It's an insightful look into Eastwood's legacy and fans of the actor/director would especially enjoy watching this.
Overall, Hereafter looks great in high definition and although there doesn't appear to be many bonus features at first glance, what is included is interesting and informative enough. Diehard Eastwood and Damon fans, or those especially intrigued by the subject matter may be most interested in this film, otherwise there isn't a whole lot about it to recommend.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/16/11)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We see a man and woman in bed in a hotel. He's just in his boxers, she's in a nightgown. We later learn that they're either having an affair or he's divorced and they're dating/sleeping together (there's mention of the man having kids); When George does a reading on a woman, he tells her that her father (who has passed on) apologizes to her for what he did to her in the past (which isn't specified, but implied that he may have molested her); Melanie acts very, very flirtatious during the cooking class towards George; Marie asks Didier if he's sleeping with her replacement at work and he dodges the question but basically admits to it; We see Marie in her bra and panties as she's changing in her hotel room; We see Marie in a bathtub, but suds in the water block any underwater nudity.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "f" word, 2 "s" words, 1 "a" word, 3 "pr*ck," 1 "d*ckhead," 1 "cr*p," 1 "sucks" (in subtitle), 4 uses of "Oh my G-d" or "G-d"
Alcohol/Drugs: Marcus and Jason's mom comes home drunk one night, grabs more alcohol from the fridge and goes to bed. The next day the kids have trouble waking her up (but she wakes up); She asks one of the boys to fetch her a drug from the pharmacy, which apparently might help her get off of a narcotic she's also on; George and his brother are seen drinking in a bar; some other assorted drinking in the film (including wine in a restaurant or wine tasting at a cooking class)
Blood/Gore: A woman is caught in a tidal wave and has some abrasions on her face. She hits her head really hard and is unconscious. We see her face has some bruises and such on it. Later, we see she has a small cut on her face days after; During a traumatic sequence, a young boy is hit by a bus and his body is thrown. We later see his dead body on the ground with some blood underneath his head and some blood and scrapes on his face
Violence: A tsunami ravages a beach town, killing hundreds or thousands of people. We see the waves taking out people, causing one to get electrocuted, others crushed by cars, etc. Marie is tossed about and is struck in the back of the head by a car floating by her; A gang of street kids harass a child and chase him through the streets. The boy then runs out into the street and is struck by a bus, killing him instantly; Another boy misses catching a subway car, which then blows up. We later hear that there were several terrorist bombs in London that killed people.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.