(2010)3.5Perry SeibertFor all his reputation as a gritty, rough-and-tumble man's man, Clint Eastwood has shown a consistent tastefulness in his directorial career. He rarely gets drawn into operatic emotional highs, and this quality suits him well with Hereafter, a gentle movie very much about overpowering feelings of love and loss and fear.
The movie opens with an exhilarating and terrifying sequence involving a tsunami that tears through a resort town; caught in the disaster is French investigative reporter and television personality Marie (Cécile De France), whose near-death experience affords her a glimpse of the afterlife. After this throat-grabber of an opening, Eastwood shifts to a struggling British family where twin boys attempt to hide their single mother's drug addiction from the social service workers who want to place the two in foster care. After tragedy strikes one of the boys, the movie switches to San Francisco, where George (Matt Damon), a retired psychic who can speak to the dead, allows his brother to talk him into giving a reading to a business partner.
Peter Morgan's screenplay takes a novelistic approach to the characters -- we spend long sequences with each of them, instead of cutting quickly back and forth. The film's relaxed tone allows us to get a sense of their day-to-day lives before dropping the supernatural elements of the story onto them. Damon benefits the most from this style, particularly because his character has the most compelling storyline; George realizes that a life spent talking about death is no life at all. He repeatedly tells his financially inclined brother that this special ability is a curse, not a gift, and that appears to be true in the movie's best scene -- a date George has with a fellow cooking student (Bryce Dallas Howard), who, after learning about his talents, begs for a reading.
The last half of the film is admittedly not as strong as the first. Clunky plot machinations bring the three main characters together, but once that happens, their final scenes together -- particularly the one between George and the surviving twin -- recapture what's best about Hereafter, namely, its quiet, reassuring tone. It's a movie that accepts that death is inevitable, and we can either focus on that sadness or live our lives. It's not terribly deep, and it's not terrifically insightful, but it is a very well-acted and reassuring message.