|Hereafter | Directed by Clint Eastwood | Written by Peter Morgan | with Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Marthe Keller, Derek Jacobi, Frankie McLaren, and George McLaren | Warner Bros. | 129 minutes|
Forget Dirty Harry — this might be Clint Eastwood's most controversial and divisive film ever. It surely is his most ambitious, though not his most accomplished. Messing with notions about vigilante justice pales before probing into folks' opinions of the beyond. And it's not just believers who're intolerant of any deviation, but hardcore atheists, as well. As one character notes after she pitches a book titled Hereafter: The Great Silence
to a room full of uncomfortable skeptics: who expected such prejudice from people who pride themselves on open-mindedness and rationality?
The character is Marie Lelay (Cécile De France), and you can't accuse her of being a wide-eyed believer. A famous French TV celebrity and the host of a news show called Window on Events, she's vacationing with her lubricious producer when suddenly the world turns into a scene from Deep Impact. A tsunami sweeps through the beach town, leveling her complacency about what matters in life. As darkness covers her over, she has a vision of — something. Alas, it looks very much like the conclusion of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
That's the trouble with death — the only thing we can compare it to is images from life. Or, barring that, images from other movies. Those of M. Night Shyamalan come to mind when Eastwood shifts to San Francisco to catch up with retired psychic George Lonegan (Matt Damon). George can see dead people, a talent that, he insists (to no one's surprise), is not a gift but a curse. You go out with a woman (Bryce Dallas Howard, late of Shyamalan's Lady in the Water), and no sooner do you touch her hands than there's a whoosh like a moment from TV's The Medium, and all the skeletons in her closet are revealed. Literally. Having intimate contact with the dead is no way to meet women.
Meanwhile, in London, young Marcus is having trouble coping with the loss of his identical twin, Jason (Frankie and George McLaren in both roles). This part of the film resembles an earlier Shyamalan movie, the pre–Sixth Sense, pre-hokum Wide Awake (1998), in which another little boy traumatized by the death of a loved one goes in search of the truth. In his search, however, Marcus has a distinct advantage: the internet.
Who needs God when there's Google? But these characters are united not just by a search engine, or even by our common fate, but by a hard-to-kill trend in filmmaking — the Babel effect. Hereafter's harshest critics have cited not its sentimentality but its Iñárritu-like contrivance. Eastwood comes close to that kind of fabrication, but I believe his movie's interweaving narrative and its evocation of synchronicity and epiphany are more inspired by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Not to beat the comparison to death, but I saw Red from the start. True, Kieslowski's film climaxes with a disaster whereas Hereafter opens with one, and the ending of Hereafter pretty much succumbs to all the palaver and platitudes it has heretofore resisted. But Clint is a crafty director, with bits of subtle symbolism and mise-en-scène — the urn of Jason's ashes set next to an illuminated world globe, for example — that cut into the sweetness. He's been stalking death since the days of High PlainsDrifter (1973) and Pale Rider (1985), and he shows no signs of backing down now.