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Hereafter

Hereafter

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CLINT Eastwood’s latest is a dramatic meditation on death and what lies beyond that arguably represents his most divisive work in a while.

Based on a script by Peter (The Queen/Frost/Nixon) Morgan, Hereafter has variously been described as powerful and moving or mawkish and deadly dull. I must confess to falling into the former category.

By no means as perfect as the director’s greatest work, Hereafter remains a sensitive, thought-provoking and often incredibly poignant piece of work that continues to underline Eastwood’s credentials as one of the most important directors of the moment.

It also marks a nice departure from Morgan, as screenwriter, given that the script marks a change from his historical real-life ventures.

The story takes the form of a globe-trotting tale of three different souls, all of whom are intrinsically linked by death. To begin with, there’s a French TV presenter (Cecile De France) who survives a terrifying brush with mortality in a tsunami.

Then there’s a London schoolboy (George McLaren) attempting to cope with the loss of his twin brother. And, finally, there’s a San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon), whose gift for being able to communicate with the dead is now a burden that prevents him from properly connecting with living people in everyday life. By the film’s conclusion, all three lost souls will have come together.

Admittedly, there’s plenty of room to get things wrong with Hereafter’s complex and controversial subject matter. But while there are niggles, Eastwood’s film never professes to offer definitive answers and strikes a fine balance between the sentiment and the emotion. It also tries to be hopeful, while finding scope to cast doubts.

The criticisms stem from how you feel about Morgan and Eastwood drawing from real life incidents to fuel the dramatic narrative, with both the tsunami plot device and the London bombings likely to unsettle even the most positive viewer. I’m not sure, to this day, whether they should have been used as plot devices.

That said, the tsunami sequence rates among the movie’s finest technical achievements and is genuinely terrifying in the way it has been delivered, while the London bombing is still sensitively handled and doesn’t feel at all sensationalised.

Admittedly, sometimes Eastwood’s score threatens to over sentimentalise proceedings (an accusation that has often been levelled at his music), but Morgan’s screenplay remains distanced and discerning enough to offer different perspectives.

Hence, for anyone willing to really invest themselves in proceedings the positives far outweigh the negatives… with several moments and insights likely to drive dinner party or pub conversations afterwards.

In terms of performance, meanwhile, Damon once again excels, providing a sensitive portrayal of a psychic torn apart by self-doubt and frustration. He really is becoming one of the most consistently outstanding actors of his generation.

De France, too, is utterly enchanting as the French reporter struggling with issues of confidence, identity and mortality – providing a credible and deeply appealing character in her own right.

McLaren, however, is the film’s weak link… a young actor who easily wears a look of sorrow, but who threatens to undermine his good work whenever he opens his mouth. It’s a harsh criticism for someone so young, especially given the weight of his material, but his is not a natural performance even though, somehow, he still manages to break your heart.

It’s fair to say that Hereafter won’t be to everyone’s taste and marks another radical change of direction (if not pace) from Eastwood. But it’s a consistently engaging, thoroughly moving, always thought-provoking and ultimately extremely powerful piece of work that gets my whole-hearted recommendation.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 9mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 13, 2011