I missed Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter when it arrived in UK theatres this January. I regretted it at the time due to the appealing pairing of Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon, combined with a thoughtful interpretation of what may await after death, or after life. I hadn’t watched much of the film, it took little more than the tsunami scene at the beginning to realise that I agreed with many of the reviews from the time, notably the Guardian’s. I don’t normally quote from a review but this just sums it up:
Clint Eastwood fans may, from now on, wish to put their hands over their ears and loudly sing “lalalala” when anyone mentions this film. It is a bizarre and baffling turkey, one of the most purely puzzling features to be released this year so far. How can so much mighty talent – Eastwood directs a script by Peter Morgan, and Steven Spielberg co-produces – can have produced something so embarrassingly awful?
Hereafter follows three individuals whose lives are affected by death. Marie Lelay (Cécile De France), a French journalist who almost dies in what is clearly a recreation of the Boxing Day Tsunami; Marcus, a London boy whose twin Jason (Frank and George McLaren) meets a violent death; George Lonegon, an American psychic that resents the spirits who intrude into his mind with just a touch from the people they left behind.
The premise of the film is an interesting one, as events collide to bring the three characters together, and, as one would expect from Clint Eastwood, the film follows the thoughts of these characters, bringing us in to their lives as they face fundamental questions about their existence.
All well and good. But where Hereafter falls down for me is not in the story necessarily, although I think that the story doesn’t do enough, it’s in its monotonous and uninspiring treatment of a concept that intrigues us all – what happens to us after we die? The use of the tsunami and the London bombings from 7 July 2005, for me, was tasteless. Emotions were disengaged in their presentation and so the power of what these events meant was lost to the film. It’s all so tidy. The use of French in the film smacked of pretension. The appearance of Derek Jacobi as himself, reading Dickens, was excruciating to watch.
But, fundamentally, the fault of Hereafter lay in its lack of depth and lack of soul. None of the characters truly engaged with their experience for Eastwood’s camera. I had the feeling all the way through that, whatever any intention the film may have had, the focus went on the execution instead of its heart. At the end, after it all, there was nothing.