Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hereafter: Is the criticism justified?

Hereafter (drama)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jay Mohr

Warner Bros. | 2010 | 129 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Mar 15, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, French, Spanish

50GB Blu-ray Disc
Digital copy
DVD copy

The Film 4.5/5

I’m a fan of Clint Eastwood, whether he’s acting or directing. Hereafter almost tempted me to see it in the theater, but generally negative reviews made me wait for the Blu-ray release. After finally seeing it, I think I know what caused the negativity. That said, it worked on a number of levels for me and met the expectations I had when it was originally announced.

So why do some people dislike it?

The first reason is the trailer. The use of the tsunami scene and the train accident suggest that the movie will contain plenty of action. It also hints at a fantasy aspect and that viewers will see the afterlife depicted. In reality, these incidents merely set the scene for what the characters are dealing with.

Another potential problem is the story structure. Similar to movies such as Babel and Magnolia, Peter Morgan’s screenplay introduces strands of a plot which eventually meet. One of these threads frequently uses subtitles as the people involved are French. The pacing is fairly slow and we are allowed to see things gradually develop.

The final reason is the resolution of the individual stories. Eastwood allows room for us to speculate what will happen to the characters as they move on with their lives. It’s not a traditional Hollywood ending where every loose end is neatly tied up.

There are three main stories:

Marie (De France), a French news anchor, has a near-death experience in the first six minutes of the movie, but ultimately survives a tsunami. It changes the way she thinks about her life and she can’t focus on her job and normal activities. She wants to write a book about the experience.

George (Damon), who lives in San Francisco, has psychic ability and used to perform readings. He wants to forget that part of his life and have a normal job. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to accomplish. His ability hinders his chances at normal relationships and his brother, Billy (Mohr), encourages him to reconsider his decision to stop giving readings.

Marcus and Jason are identical twins who live with their alcoholic mother in London. When Jason is killed after being struck by a car, Marcus has to deal with the loss. His world is crumbling around him and he looks to various psychics to help, but all are shown to be fakes.

As the story progresses, it switches more and more rapidly between the three threads. We suspect that the three main characters will eventually meet and interact, but it’s not clear how and to what degree. I won’t ruin that for you.

Death is a complex and thought-provoking subject. What happens when we die? Is there something more? What would you say if you could talk to loved ones you have lost? How much stronger might the feeling of loss be for someone losing an identical twin?

Eastwood makes some good choices in this movie. After the opening tsunami sequence, the story is the focus rather than special effects. The casting worked well and the main actors did a terrific job. Damon seemed completely natural in his role and De France also gave a strong performance.

Rather than trying to show viewers what the afterlife might look like, Eastwood shows us very little. It’s left to our imagination. All that is made clear is that George is having psychic visions and those are handled in brief flashes similar to Christopher Walken’s character in The Dead Zone. The story explains what happens to the three characters at a point in their lives and nothing more. Again, the right choice. Any resolution to the three story threads would have felt tacked on and superfluous.

Video Quality 4.5/5
While the tsunami sequence doesn’t look totally convincing - despite the film receiving an Oscar nomination for visual effects - it isn’t a fault in the transfer. Some of the cinematography is beautiful and colors appear bright and natural. Detail is strong and this is one of Warner’s stronger transfers.

Audio Quality 4.5/5
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn’t disappoint either. It’s at its loudest during the opening tsunami, but background effects all come through clearly and dialogue is perfect. I had to turn the volume up a few decibels more than for most films, but the presentation is even throughout once the appropriate level is selected.

Special Features 4/5

Step Into the Hereafter: Focus Points (42 minutes, 1080p) – Eastwood and Damon go into more depth about some of the choices made for the film.

The Eastwood Factor – Extended Version (128 minutes, 1080p) – A look at Eastwood’s career, available in HD for the first time.

I completely understand why some reviews were negative. If you’re the type of person who enjoys art house films and contemplating your existence, there’s a chance you will get something from Hereafter. If you have a problem with slow-pacing, subtitles and unresolved plot threads, pass on this title.

It was a pleasant surprise for me and something that I will definitely revisit before too long.


  1. I agree. I thought it was a very good movie. Not exceptional, but better than most movies. Eastwood has an ability to emotionally connect his audience with his characters and stories. I'm not a fan of all of his work, but I thought Hereafter was second only to Gran Torino.

  2. Good call on Gran Torino. That's another movie that gets a lot of criticism. I think it was one of Eastwood's best performances and the humor was pretty good too.