From his spaghetti Westerns through the surprise box office smash Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood has offered increasingly mature treatises on the subject of death, specifically how it relates to the act of one person taking another's life. Hereafter, Eastwood's newest and certain to be most divisive movie, finds the filmmaker coming at us from a quieter place, examining the notion of death away from the sudden impact of a .357 Magnum or other forms of violent, purposeful retribution. The result is a haunting experience certain to resonate with more discerning filmgoers, as well as a return to form for Eastwood after the Rocky-like theatrics of Invictus.
The script by Peter Morgan (The Queen) follows three separate stories that eventually dovetail in one satisfying finale. The first focuses on George Lonegan (Matt Damon in a beautifully modulated performance), a bona fide psychic whose ability to glimpse into the afterworld has left him alone in this world. The second tale follows French journalist Marie Lelay (Cecile de France), whose near-death experience during the devastating 2004 tsunami has understandably affected everything from her career to her relationships. Finally, there are Marcus and Jason (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren), twin lads from London who find their brotherly bond seemingly severed on the heels of a tragic incident.
Hereafter unfolds with the patience of a good book, a factor likely to turn off more antsy audience members. Yet those who don't flinch at its meditative rhythms will find much to appreciate, starting with the understated manner in which Eastwood and Morgan present their material. Steadfastly refusing to engage in dogmatic pursuits, the pair are content to offer a universally accessible look at the manner in which people become so preoccupied with the notion of death that they are unable or unwilling to live for themselves. The picture's low-key approach extends to the fleeting supernatural moments, shot in a matter-of-fact way that's neither fussy nor forced. Indeed, Hereafter emerges as the most gentle picture in Eastwood's filmography, a sincere push for establishing meaningful connections among the living in our own world, as well as a ruminative exploration of the importance of making peace with this life before venturing into the great unknown.