Take a second and think about all the things that you can accomplish in a span of two hours. Now think about trading all that productivity in to sit in a theater and watch a movie. The redeeming factor of movies is the feeling of being entertained and to escape day to day headaches, so losing out on a couple hours of productivity isn’t always a total loss, unless of course you go out to see a film like HEREAFTER, in which case you’re giving up your valuable time to have a talented filmmaker present material so dull and lifeless you’d just as well sit at home and watch static on your television.
HEREAFTER is the story of a French newswoman who has visions of the afterlife after nearly being killed in a tsunami, a former psychic that traded in fortune and fame for a thankless blue collar factory job, and a young boy in London whose brother is killed in a car accident and struggles with life after the incident. Each character deals with death in their lives in different ways, and view death with three very different points of view, fascination, resentment, and sadness.
The synopsis is simple, and has the possibility of being fascinating and entertaining, but sadly it simply falls incredibly flat. The film kicks off with a spectacular disaster sequence of a tsunami causing incredible destruction through a village. At that moment I was pretty excited at what might be in store for the rest of the film, since I knew very little about it upon sitting down to watch it. The following two hours after that first five to ten minutes was some of the effective yawn inducing cinema I’ve seen in quite some time.
The most I can say for the performances is that they are adequate for what the film is. There isn’t a single stand out performance to be had, nothing that makes a certain scene stand out or improve the film at any level. I cannot commend any of the actors and actresses on their efforts because it feels like they, along with me, were very close to nodding off at any second. Matt Damon has some of the only halfway enjoyable scenes involving an Italian cooking class in which he’s partnered with a young chatty woman looking to make some new friends. The scene where one of the partners is blindfolded and the other feeds them and they guess what they’ve just ate has moments of charming humor. The young boy struggling with the loss of his brother also has some extremely brief endearing qualities, but only because of the child’s situation, his performance isn’t a breakthrough and all feels rushed. That is part of the problem, for as long and boring as the film is, the storylines all progress over a year’s time and the characters feel incomplete and extremely two dimensional. It is extremely hard to care about any of their plights.
I more than realize the caliber of director that Clint Eastwood is, so I can’t say completely that there wasn’t a single aspect here to enjoy. The film looks very good; the opening tsunami is done extremely well, it induced a feeling of dread and peril and definitely kicked the film off with a bang, so clearly Eastwood knows how important it is to get the audience’s attention right off the bat. At the same time, maybe that’s the biggest crime of the film, it starts off so spectacularly and you are presented to nothing near as grand for the rest of the film. Eastwood presents the next two hours that jump around at several points, not saying how much time has passed except for a few lines here and there that tell you a year or a few weeks have passed, it gives the impression that the film is very unfocused. The structure doesn’t give us enough time to build a connection with any of the characters. Eastwood tries to fit so much into the film that it starts to seem obvious there is so much left out. With Damon’s character the Italian cooking class becomes a prominent thing in his character’s life then just disappears, we don’t even know if he ever wins the cooking competition that they talked about several times. The French newswoman goes from doing a book about a political figure to writing three chapters of a book about afterlife to having a finished and published book in no time whatsoever. The little boy from London disappears from his foster parents and child services actually advise not to call the police, he narrowly escapes a brush with death and visits with several psychics to talk to his dead brother. The film touches on so much in such a quick amount of time that instead of being entertaining it basically is seen then forgotten almost instantly. I have one last brief and vague comment about the little boy from London though, and it’s that Eastwood really wanted to make this poor kid suffer; there was hardly a good thing to come out of that whole storyline.
For a film about death and its different effects on us HEREAFTER is dark and depressing, but for all the wrong reasons. After a grand opening the film hits a wall and drags for the remaining two hour runtime. Eastwood is a very influential and talented director, but there likely won’t be another film to come along this year with so little to offer. Wooden performances and a dull unfocused story make for an extremely wasteful night out to the movies; the only way it could have been worse is if it was in 3D.