PLOT: A vacationing Parisian Journalist (Cecile de France) survives a Tsunami, but her close brush with death has left her pre-occupied with the afterlife. Meanwhile, a young English boy, Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is devastated after his twin brother is killed in a car accident, and his obsessive need to communicate with his deceased sibling leads him to a reluctant American psychic (Matt Damon).
REVIEW: HEREAFTER is a film that will surely be disappointing to anyone who walks in expecting another SIXTH SENSE. Clint Eastwood obviously has no interest in making any type of paranormal thriller, and HEREAFTER is a very gentle film that focuses on three people in crisis, all of whom want to know what the great beyond holds for us.
It's a very interesting film, but very slowly paced, which will be a turnoff for some. This deliberate pacing is a bit jarring as HEREAFTER opens with a terrifying Tsunami sequence that's incredibly intense and is probably one of the most shocking scenes Eastwood's ever directed. He puts you directly in the shoes of Cecile De France's character as she tries to escape this tidal wave of destruction, and it's an incredible set piece.
From then on, HEREAFTER is completely free of any kind of suspense, save for one unexpected disaster scene midway through. The rest is simply about our main characters trying to get on with their lives after facing death. The screen time is split evenly between De France, young McLaren, and Matt Damon.
Damon's character is the only one in the film who doesn't have a brush with mortality, but unlike the others, he already knows what's waiting for us, as he can communicate with the dead. This device is used sparingly, as he's a reluctant psychic trying to live a life of his own. This is impossible, and driven home is a sad subplot involving his courtship of Bryce Dallas Howard's character. Once she eventually learns the truth about his ability, she pushes him and their final scene together is very sad. Damon's wonderful as this vulnerable, wounded guy who's constantly being taken advantage of by people who either want to exploit him (like his slimy brother played by Jay Mohr), or want to use his ability to sort out their own issues with death.
Other than Damon, the other two central characters are just as effective. Cecile De France is a huge star in France, but here's she's known mostly for her role in the awful Jacki Chan remake of AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. This should erase all memories of that debacle, with her getting a very juicy role. An added benefit for De France is that she gets to perform the majority of her role in French, with the exception of a length visit to a hospice run by veteran character actress Marthe Keller (from seventies classics like MARATHON MAN and BLACK SUNDAY).
As for young McLaren, he's an inspired choice to play young Marcus, as he really does have a twin brother (who, naturally, plays his dead brother in the film). I think it takes a twin to fully convey the profound sense of loss that would be involved in losing a twin, and despite his young age McLaren is excellent (and never cute- thank God). Just don't compare him to Haley Joel Osment- although, truth be told, they do look a bit alike.
On the directorial side of things, you get the traditional Eastwood polish, with this being a nice looking film (shot by Tom Stern, who's been Clint's DP since BLOOD RIVER), but never overtly stylish. Everything is shot in a fairly straightforward manner, with the exception of the opening Tsunami, which is probably the most complicated thing Eastwood's ever done in a film he directed. Ever the multi-tasker, we also get a low-key piano driven score courtesy of Eastwood, and his son Kyle.
Now, HEREAFTER is a bit of a draggy film, as it meanders along quite a bit bit during the sluggish midsection. However, it's never really dull, although it could have been tightened up a bit in the editing room. I still really enjoyed it for what it is, which is a not particularly deep, but surprisingly pleasant, and moving look at the afterlife. Writer Peter Morgan doesn't delve too deeply into what lies beyond the grave, as it's essentially about the people left behind, but this is effective and probably the only way a director like Eastwood would ever want to approach a story like this. There are no scares, but there's a lot of emotion, and that's not a bad thing at all.