Clint Eastwood, as a director, is certainly in his prime. In his 80s, he is extremely prolific, and is producing dramas, one after another that range from solid (Hereafter, Invictus) to outstanding (Changeling, Gran Torino). How many directors of any age can boast such a resume?
Hereafter, I kept thinking, felt like a European style drama, and it is not just because good portions of it take place in London and Paris (even in French!). It has a slow, deliberate style, and more of a sigh of a climax than an exclamation point. For those who don't mind investing time in such a drama, Hereafter is a curious, sad film with more questions than answers.
As I said, the film's first 10 minutes recreate a tsunami in an unnamed tropical land. A French couple wakes up in their hotel, and the woman, Marie (Cécile De France) goes for a morning stroll in the town's outdoor market. Her lover sees the tidal wave hit the beach and take over the hotel grounds (just like in one of those famous first-person YouTube videos from the 2004 tsunami). Marie, along with the other tourists and townspeople first see power poles toppling like trees off in the distance, then the wave barreling toward them, people attempting to outrun it. I watched this film mere DAYS after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I'm just saying, I had NO IDEA there was a moment like this in the film, and I had to cover my eyes. It is really too much (and ironically, in the extras, the crew explained how they wanted it to look realistic, but try not to get off on how cool it looked onscreen... ugh). Marie is overtaken, and for all practical purposes, dies in the carnage. But she is rescued and revived. When Marie goes back to France as a survivor of an international disaster, she is haunted, not just by the experience, but by her visions from the land of the dead.
Matt Damon, in a quiet, subdued turn, plays George Lonegan, a San Franciscan who hides a talent that has haunted him all his life. When he touches another person's hands to connect, he can "read" the dead people that have touched that person's life (in both good and bad ways). He can channel messages from the dead. George, via urging from his brother (Jay Mohr), used to do this trick for money as a psychic, but withdrew, unable anymore to absorb others' pain.
The third storyline of the triptych involves two identical twin boys in London. Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren) are inseparable 12-year-olds, best friends, and co-conspirators in hiding their mother's constant drunkenness from social services. But one day, Jason is hit by a car and killed, and Marcus is devastated. He takes it upon himself to try to find a way to communicate with his dead brother, visiting one sham psychic after another.
Of course these three stories will converge. I found that I was moved by all of them (after I got over the terror of the opening images). Matt Damon is surprisingly sweet in this mellow and sad role, and the cast of international actors are all effective. What could be a rip-your-heart-out tearjerker is actually a melancholy yet not-entirely hopeless reflection on mortality.
The real treat here is the inclusion of the feature length documentary The Eastwood Factor in an extended form. This retrospective covers Eastwood's career and longtime partnership with Warner Bros. Studio. Also are a bunch of featurettes about the making of Hereafter, as well as interviews with some real-life psychics, mediums, and even twins (including producer Kathleen Kennedy!), as well as the cast and Eastwood himself.