Cast: Matt Damon, Cecile de France
Direction: Clint Eastwood
Rating: *** 1/2
When Clint Eastwood made his directorial debut with Play Misty for Me back in 1971, nobody could have predicted that the star of spaghetti westerns and the Dirty Harry series would also become an icon among filmmakers.
The octogenarian director’s 31st feature may not rank alongside his finest work. Arguably, that honour belongs to Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Still, Hereafter is vastly superior to the mush and malarkey that passes for entertainment nowadays.
If there is any doubt that Eastwood is now at the peak of his craft, look no further than the splendid opening sequence. A French television reporter (de France) nearly drowns when a tsunami hits the coastal resort where she is vacationing.
Returning to Paris, she takes a break from her glamourous job to write a book about her near-death experience. Halfway around the world, meanwhile, a middle-aged American (Damon) struggles with the stress of his ability to communicate with the dead. Convinced that his gift is a curse rather than a blessing, the psychic attends cooking classes whenever he isn’t busy listening to recordings of the novels of his favourite author, Charles Dickens.
Finally, in London, a schoolboy (George McLaren) strives to cope with the loss of a loved one. The lives of the disparate strangers are shadowed by death and linked with their somewhat morbid fixation with mortality. Epic in scope but without losing an intimacy that sets it apart, Eastwood contemplates the transience of human existence in characteristically succinct style. Aptly, almost a third of the film is in French, with English subtitles.
However, the climax during which the parallel plotlines converge is a bit of a let-down. Also, the script by the acclaimed British playwright Peter Morgan (The Queen) is contrived at times, like the scene set on a London subway. But these are quibbles. The emotionally charged characterisations and matched by flawless performances from Cecile de France and Matt Damon. In the role of the latter’s seductive cooking partner, Bryce Dallas Howard lends superb support. Filmed on locations in Paris, London and San Francisco, the fluid camerawork (courtesy Tom Stern) adds to the overall impact. The plaintive piano score by Eastwood himself also incorporates snatches of music by Rachmaninoff, Bizet and Puccini.
All in all a minor gem, Hereafter is a must-visit for Eastwood aficionados.