If Clint Eastwood had his way, the marketing whizzes at Warner Bros. wouldn’t have shown the tsunami in the trailer for Hereafter. He was worried the ads would make it look like an action film instead of what it really is: A deeply moving story about three people in three different countries going through some tough changes.
But there’s definitely action at the startling start.
Based on the huge wave that devastated coastal Southeast Asia in 2004, the film opens on a peaceful last morning of a couple’s beach holiday. Then there’s a distant rumble, a jarringly presented wall of water, and destruction and death.
The sequence will leave anyone who’s watching breathless, as it does Marie (Cecile De France), who is drowned, but miraculously
comes back to life, with strange otherworldly visions dancing in her head.
Over in San Francisco, George (Matt Damon) mopes through his days, toiling away in a factory, sometimes silently thinking back to a career he had to leave, but not really missing it.
But his brief reverie is shattered by his hustler brother, Billy (Jay Mohr), who brings “clients” by George’s apartment — “just this one last time.” George, it seems, is a psychic who can touch a person’s hands, let go, then relate what some long-gone dead person wants to say.
He’s the real thing, but he doesn’t want to do it anymore. His ability is a curse.
London is home for Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), young identical twins who, it could be argued, make up different sides of the same person. They’re an amazing team, especially when covering for their loving but less-than-competent single mom who regularly comes home drunk before pouring herself another drink, forgetting that folks from Social Services could drop by at any time.
There’s a car accident. There are no longer two brothers. There is misery.
George wants a new life. Marie can’t focus on anything but her near-death experience. Jason doesn’t know how to live without Marcus.
This all sounds dismal, but Hereafter is a film filled with hope. Lonely George meets lonely Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) with the actors playing it in opposites-attract mode. He’s calm and quiet, she’s bubbly.
Marie takes a leave from TV journalism to write a long-put-off book. De France, who costarred in the recent Mesrine: Killer Instinct, gives an Oscar-worthy performance. She not only has a commanding presence that doesn’t allow you to take your eyes off her, her character is someone you just want to get to know.
Acting-wise, the film’s weak link is the young, mostly inexperienced twin actors (they look so alike, Eastwood actually had them play the other’s role at different points). But the sad longing they express comes across as very real. And there’s a palpable optimism when Jason starts tracking down psychics and spiritualists to help him contact Marcus. Until, of course, he realizes what a sham they are.
Much credit must go to screenwriter Peter Morgan, whose previous scripts (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) bear little resemblance in style to this one. These are fictional characters, but they’re genuine and heartfelt. You want to root for them to get what they want, no matter how impossible it seems.
Our protagonists all go through some suffering on their own, but throughout the film’s slow, steady pace, it’s clear they’re somehow going to be brought together. Let’s just say that all roads lead to London and that Charles Dickens comes into play.
Eastwood and Morgan have taken a subject that’s usually treated by Hollywood as horrific material for griefsploitation and used it to make a thoughtful, beautiful film.