Following the disappointment of the film adaptation of The Lovely Bones last year I was looking for a new film about life after death to invest my hopes in. Following first seeing the trailer for Hereafter it quickly became that film for me, and I expected that it would do what Bones was unable to as long as it didn’t go all Ghost Whisperer on us. Unfortunately I once again found myself with a lackluster film unable to fill the void in my checklist.
Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon team up once more in this film that tries to connect three different stories together through each separate characters connection to tragedy and the afterlife, including a French reporter who has a near death experience when she is swept away in a tsunami, two English twins whose lives are forever changed following an accident, and a psychic who has trouble coping with his understanding of the hereafter and its effect on his hopes for living a normal life in the real world.
Though there is an underlying theme of coping with tragedy and one’s connection and understanding of death, not a whole lot is used film wise to connect these stories together as cohesively as possible. Instead of smoothly weaving the threads of the stories together with the others to find a deeper connecting under the surface level, the film breaks each story into larger chunks, making the film more episodically broken in editing than broken in a way that makes a smooth fit.
With the editing done as such the pacing of the film takes a turn for the slower side as it seems to be more of a triple feature than one film. The casting does work to rectify this as much as possible as each section has strength in its acting (and/or adorable kids to make up for what they lack). Cécile De France plays the reporter who catches a glimpse of the other side when she was on the verge of death, and continues to be haunted by what she has seen long after the tide has gone back out. Her storyline starts out with quite a jolt with the tsunami and the devastation we briefly see as it rolls down the streets, and it is interesting to follow her on her path to understanding what Damon’s character experiences all the time, which is why it is possible that the film would work better without the third storyline of the brothers, even if it is just as devastating as the others, if not more so.
Even though Damon’s story as a psychic who can speak to dead people is full of clichés, including the stance that his abilities are a curse and not a gift (he must have read a lot of Spider-man comics growing up), it is definitely the highlight of the movie. In the film he says something to the extent of “a life about death is not a life,” and though a film all about death is still a film, it sure makes for a gloomy one that becomes hard to watch. Luckily enough even with the sadness in Damon’s character he is still able to work in his charm and humor in his character’s attempt to make a deeper connection with another human being once more. These scenes with Bryce Dallas Howard serve as a breath of fresh air because we are actually allowed to smile at their chemistry before diving headfirst back into the overriding sadness of the film.
Even though each character provides their own touching story it is hard to enjoy the film as a whole when the stories seem forced together. There is a fluidity lacking as we transition between each storyline, and even though they are connected thematically it still feels hard to swallow, with an ending that fits even less than the chunks edited together throughout.
Final Grade: C-