With a tsunami in the opening scene that pulls you underwater and along the wreckage, “Hereafter” announces that it is a big picture from the very beginning. The originality and risks taken here outweigh any weaknesses. This is a brash and utterly different type of film that will make you squirm with discomfort and will force you to think hard about what you believe. How rare is that?
Where does it all go right? With my beloved Clint Eastwood directing, it was unlikely I would hate it although I had been warned that other reviewers had been lukewarm. I adored “Gran Torino” and was moved but not shaken by “Invictus”. With “Hereafter”, I am moved and changed long after the credits have rolled.
“Hereafter” is also a 1975 film about three guys who sell their souls for a year of chart hits. When I first saw the title, I assumed it was a remake. Like “Morning Glory”, the shared title is all the commonality there is. I suspect I am the only person in the world who saw the 1975 “Hereafter” and the 2010 “Morning Glory”.
Matt Damon is absolutely brilliant as the unhappy psychic who has given up fame for a simpler life in a warehouse job. He is lured back to his old career by his brother, played straight by comedian Jay Mohr, who creates a performance that equals Damon’s. I wasn’t a Damon or Mohr fan, but I will look out for both in future.
Meanwhile, Cecile de France, fabulous in “Mesrine – Killer Instinct” is a journalist who has a life-changing brush with death. Much of the dialogue is in French, in her scenes and that sparkles. All the set pieces of the film – the adult education classes, the journalists and the publishers and the book fair attenders – love words and learning. I could worship this movie just for that.
There is a fair amount of mocking fake psychics and some interesting scenes about British social workers. All of these people are far too well-dressed and unstressed to be anything like realistic, but they are interesting, at worst.
The third plot strand, apart from Damon and de France, is about a young boy mourning the death of his twin. This double role is played by twins Frankie and George McLaren with their mother played by an extraordinarily affecting Lyndsey Marshal. There is not a dud performance in the whole emsemble.
Jumping from scene to scene, this film demands intelligence and an attention span. The basic premise is that it is deeply unintellectual and unacceptable to believe in psychic abilities and the hereafter. Clint is getting older and considering what happens after we die. Given his unique and iconoclastic view of life, we expect no less from him about death. I am not sure about the politics, but I love the individual voice he brings to every movie he makes.
Of the rest of the cast, Bryce Dallas Howard and Thierry Neuvic, as the love interests of Damon and de France, respectively, stand out. Derek Jacobi plays himself, to great effect. Peter Morgan’s script follows his excellent “Frost/Nixon” and “The Damned United” in thoughtful intelligence brought to minority subjects.
This is absolutely the best movie I have seen for several years. It replaces “Gran Torino” as my modern favourite. Yes, you will be uncomfortable. But I cannot find fault with its valuing of difference and its thoughtful subtlety about a difficult subject. I have had a couple of experiences which have made me think about mortality lately. I think this is my first five star and must see recommendation for a long time.
Prepare to be pushed and keep an open mind. The lush cinematography led by Tom Stern will lure you in – and you will not look at your watch once. Concentrate. It’s worth it.