The home video release of Hereafter, like its Asian box office release, is the victim of bad timing. The movie has been pulled from theaters in Japan since the tragic events that have struck that country in recent weeks. It’s unfortunate that the movie opens with one of the most realistic depictions of a tsunami that I’ve ever seen. The ultra-realism will be an emotional pang for anyone who shares the sadness of the current disaster. The film has suddenly been criticized for its graphic portrayal, but that kind of statement bears the mark of the worse kind of insincerity. Anyone who has seen the recent works of Clint Eastwood knows that he’s never been about such things. Eastwood has learned to mine the vast treasures of the subtle in recent years, and the scene here is an integral part of the story he’s trying to tell. The movie was filmed long before the Japanese incident, and you certainly couldn’t have expected anyone to anticipate such a thing. Still, with all of that said, this is not a movie you should be watching if you find yourself sensitive to those images. With the real images we’ve seen on our television and computer screens, this will be hard for anyone with a heart. I’m sure that Eastwood himself has experienced strong emotions in the last week or so. Is it disrespectful to watch something like this now? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. I will say it’s an emotional experience. Perhaps it’s a film best saved until distance has dulled some of the pain. It was absolutely the right move to pull it in Japan.
The film tells three very separate and distinct character vignettes that don’t converge until the final moments. Each of the three characters has been touched by death in some fashion or another.
George (Damon) had a near-death experience as a child. It has left him with an unusual gift that has long since become a curse for him. When he touches someone he receives visions of people that are connected with them and are recently deceased. He can communicate with these souls and provide that information to the person being “haunted” by these spirits. Naturally, he had once turned the gift into a money machine that saw him gain popularity and wealth. We only know this through the narrative. His brother Billy (Mohr) was a part of that life, and we get the impression it got out of control. When we meet George here, he no longer uses the power and doesn’t even want to talk about it. But Billy wants him to get back in the business, so to speak. He convinces George to do a read for one of his clients and the word of mouth finds George hounded once again by people desperate to communicate with a loved one who passed on.
Marie (DeFrance) is a French news anchor who was on vacation in the Pacific when the resort was devastated by a tsunami. She was caught in the water and drowned. She was brought back to life, but not before experiencing some other place or plane of existence. She’s unable to shake the vision and becomes obsessed with the hereafter. She researches a book that her publishers don’t want to publish and encounters what she calls a wall of silence surrounding the subject. She sacrifices her career and lover to pursue the subject and eventually finds a publisher willing to take on the book.
Marcus and Jason (McLaren x 2) are young twins in the slums of London. Their single mother is a drug addict and alcoholic. They’ve essentially become the parents and Jason, who is minutes older, becomes the voice of reason and authority for Marcus, who grows to depend on him. The two are inseparable until a gang of thugs beats on Jason and chases him out into the street and directly in the path of a truck. He’s struck and killed. Now Marcus is trying to find a way to connect to his brother. He feels alone. He visits every kind of psychic and con artist he can find, hoping to communicate with Jason. He comes across an old website picture of George. At a book fair in England the three make their anticipated connections.
Eastwood’s style can be found in every frame of Hereafter. From the acoustic piano score that is very reminiscent of the classical guitar score of Unforgiven to the slow and determined pace of the action you can literally feel the hands of Clint Eastwood. His methodical style is usually quite an asset to the projects he’s done to date. One gets the sense that Eastwood doesn’t take a project he’s not passionate about. He doesn’t have to work, so he’s more than willing to wait for something that stirs his own emotions. It allows his work to display an authenticity that is rare in Hollywood these days. He never has to fake it, because he doesn’t work if it’s not there. It’s akin to a lawyer only taking cases he truly believes in. It’s a luxury most people don’t have, but that Clint has earned in with over 40 years of quality. His legacy is already guaranteed. He can take his time, and most of the time it’s a wonderful compliment to the material. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s very true with Hereafter.
The pace isn’t determined, it’s downright sluggish. Eastwood knows how to get great performances from his actors, and he does it again here, but it all moves with such forced slow motion that the movie is better appreciated for its individual moments, and there are quite a few wonderful ones here, but as a whole the movie suffers. By the time the characters do intersect, the buildup for something truly special might be so high that the expectation simply couldn’t be met no matter what happens. But Eastwood lets us down in the end, and I never thought I’d ever hear myself saying that. Endings are something he usually does well. Who will ever forget the final showdowns in Unforgiven or El Torino? This movie ends in an anti-climax that can’t help but disappoint. It’s an ending not worthy of the two hours it took to get there. I won’t spoil it for anyone willing to invest the time. Don’t expect any kind of a twist, and don’t look for any answers. The film simply…ends. If you’re curious, rent it. Then again, why not take the $30 you would have spent to buy the film and send it to one of the relief efforts for the folks in Japan. Somehow I don’t think Warner or Clint would mind.
Hereafter is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. While the script might disappoint, this image will impress. Eastwood has a knack for knowing just how to stage a scene. His attention to detail is the kind of thing that high definition was invented to showcase. The movie looks beautiful. Colors pop, and the sharpness cuts like a knife at every turn. Again, I call attention to the opening tsunami. One of the reasons this will have an emotional impact in light of current events is how realistic this thing looks. Forget about any disaster-film computer images you’ve seen to date. This thing will absolutely convince you. The image presentation does a splendid job of bringing all of those minute details to life. You will be blown away.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just as moving and effective. Eastwood’s gentle score should be familiar to us by now. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. He sets the perfect mood and then uses the surrounds to wrap us in that world and take us along for the ride. Dialog is often soft and subtle, but you’ll hear every word. There’s a dynamic range here that appears to be counter to the understated nature of it all.
All in HD.
Focus Points: (42:26) You can watch the movie in a Step Into The Hereafter Mode or watch these mini-features separately. They cover: Tsunami – Recreating A Disaster, Is There Life After Death, Clint On Casting, Delving Into Hereafter, Twin Bonding, French Speaking French, Casting The Silent Characters, The Eastwood Experience.
The Eastwood Factor: (1:28:27) This is the Richard Schickel documentary found on the Clint box set. It’s a nice look at the actor/director’s highlights. It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman.
It’s not just the unfortunate timing that plagues this film. It’s not one of Eastwood’s most commercial efforts, and I left the movie with a sense that it wasn’t complete. It doesn’t help that the trailers I’ve seen focus on the tsunami and the few action scenes that I’m sure many members of the audience were expecting something more like a Roland/Emerich movie. That’s not to say I would have preferred such a film. Jay Mohr’s casting might even bring out the Ghost Whisperer crowd, I suppose. It’s not really anything like that, either. Like Clint itself, this is not an easy film to define, and I suspect that’s exactly how he intended it. No one can accuse the man of being unwilling to take chances. Now, are you willing to take a chance? “Just answer with a simple yes or no, please.”