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Three people are touched by death in different ways: In Thailand, French journalist Marie Lelay has a near-death experience after being caught in the path of the 2004 Asian Tsunami. In London, Marcus is left alone and desperate for answers when his twelve-year-old twins brother Jason is killed by a passing car. In San Francisco, tormented and retired psychic George Lonegan works to keep his supernatural gift a secret and live a normal life with his cooking class partner, Melanie. However, George's opportunistic brother pushes George to cash in on his abilities.
I've been torn with Clint Eastwood. I love Clint Eastwood the actor. The baddass Man With No Names, the Dirty Harrys, you name it. Clint Eastwood the director, I'm not as fond of. UNFORGIVEN was great, but that's about where start to lose interest in Clint's forays into the director's chair. To me, Clint's always been better in front of the camera rather than behind it. Don't get me wrong. Clint's good at what he does (it's Clint friggin' Eastwood, after all), it's just a preference of mine. So here we have HEREAFTER, a film that did a modest job at the box office, but was given so-so reviews by critics. And honestly, after seeing the film, I can see where both the critics and Eastwood were coming from.
Right off the bat, the film starts with a bang. More accurately, a huge rumbling cascade of water. The topic of a tsunami is a touchy one at the moment, given the havoc that played out after the Japanese earthquake (which ultimately had HEREAFTER being pulled from theatres over there two weeks early). Obviously, Clint had no way of knowing about this, but it makes the scene that much more intense. The aftermath, with Marie dying, seemingly "walking towards the light" and then being revived starts things off for the character (and the film) nicely.
Acting-wise, the film boasts some great performances, the obvious being Matt Damon playing George Lonegan. Jaded and preferring the simple life, I enjoyed the idea of a guy not wanting to exploit their abilities for fame and fortune, preferring to live away from that without feeling like crap over the 'curse' his abilities bring him. Cliched, I know, but it works for me. Cecile De France is the other big player in this one, turning in a soulful performance as Marie Lelay, who ends up becoming consumed by her desire for answers to the afterlife.
Ultimately though, I just couldn't get into this film. It's one of those films for me that a cumulation of missteps ultimately leaves me out in the cold. Don't get me wrong, this is a well-constructed film, it's just 'meh'. For starters, Peter Morgan's screenplay comes across as something that meanders through the topic at hand, passing it by without really delving into the idea of the afterlife. That, and the fact that the dialogue is heavy on the melodrama. Plot points aren't resolved as well as they could be, especially when the length of the film exploits this, and Clint's score, while beautiful, feels out of place. Finally, in spite of some great performances, we get some rather wooden ones, most notably from the twins used for Marcus and Jason. And you wonder why I don't like many child actors.
If I sound kind of disinterested in the film, it's really because I was. Again, HEREAFTER was put together well and had some great components, yet ultimately the film was just so-so for me. I'd lean towards Morgan's script as the main cause, but I can't really say that's the main fault, since there are some great moments. Clint does a great job of directing, but ultimately it feels like he doesn't go about the introspective idea of the afterlife correctly (odd as that might sound). It's as if he's asking emotional questions of the audience that are the same ones we've heard before, with terse responses that don't really delve into things. See it if you're the Eastwood fanatic who loves him as a director. Me? For the most part, I'll stick with Clint the actor.
Video: Presented in 1080p/AVC-encoded 2.35:1 widescreen, HEREAFTER sure looks like paradise. The palette for the film sparkles, with everything from the cool colours to the rich blacks. For $50 million, the CG doesn't quite hold up, but that's minor, given the amount of positives present like the texture details in clothing. Other than some minor ringing, edges are sharp and crisp.
Audio: HEREAFTER's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track complements the video presentation nicely. The big tsunami scene is the winner, with the roaring and rumbling of the water captured so realistically that it's shocking. The rest of the film is more of the talkie type. Thankfully, conversations, no matter what volume, are clear and free of interference from other sounds.
First up is the biggie. The Eastwood Factor (Extended Edition) is a 2010 documentary from film critic Richard Schickel and narrated by Morgan Freeman that explores the life and times of Clint Eastwood, tracing his career from television bit parts to the silver screen. Obviously, there are tons of interviews involving Eastwood, along with various clips and the like totalling 90 minutes of candid yet engrossing stuff. The sheer amount of comprehensive infomation about Eastwood's career and films is worth the price of admission.
Oh yeah, the film itself. Warner Bros. sure seems to like using these Focus Points instead of, you know, actually doing any hard work for the film. We get nine of them in all. First is Tsunami - Recreating a Disaster which covers the FX of turning a location into a disaster zone, including the actors in a greenscreen pool. Is There Life After Death? has the cast and crew being asked their thoughts on the afterlife and how that factored into the screenplay. Clint on Casting has Eastwood discussing how the actors came into the project and what they brought. Delving into 'Hereafter' has mediums and parapsychologists asked for their thoughts on the themes of the film. Twin Bonding explores the idea of identical twins sharing a sort of psychic bond. Numerous pairs, including twins George and Frankie McLaren (who appear in the film) share their thoughts. French Speaking French has screenwriter Peter Morgan demand for realism of his characters by having them speak in their character's native tongue. Obviously, not a problem for Cecile de France. Casting the Silent Characters covers the locations where the film was shot. Last of the Focus Points is The Eastwood Experience, which has the cast and crew offering up their thoughts working for the man who's done it all.
Last up is the film's theatrical trailer. Obviously, the focus is on the Eastwood documentary, which is fine, but it seems that the film itself gets the short end of the stick. Why Warner continues to solely rely on this Focus Points concept instead of producing fully fleshed-out featurettes or a documentary on the film, I don't know.
A film that could've been a great film (and Oscar-worthy) ultimately comes up with a big 'okay' attached to it. While the acting by the main players is for the most part spot-on, some of the lesser acting, compounded by the screenplay's scratching of the surface and Eastwood following suit left me hanging. The documentary on Eastwood is the big extra, and was more entertaining to me than the actual feature.