As he stumbles towards the tender, twilight years, Clint Eastwood has begun to toy with what death means. Hereafter would be quite the fitting swan song, considering his attempts at touching on the world around him would leave him with a chance to enclose his promising thoughts. But it was not to be, he would go on for a decade after this, making far better films in that span of time. They detail the thoughts he has here far better, and it makes Hereafter feel like a bit of a redundant, albeit well cast, feature. Jay Mohr and Richard Kind may feature ever so briefly, but they are washed away by Matt Damon, as are some other characters in a more literal sense in an opening that sees them meet with death, but avoid it ever so briefly.
It is the suspension of belief that Eastwood wishes his audiences to have here. We are to believe that Damon can truly speak to spirits beyond the grave. Some audiences may struggle with this. The contrast in the severity of the message and the ridiculousness of the premise is a hard pill to swallow. Introducing these characters that are destined for some brief encounter with those beyond the grave, Eastwood fails to make a convincing connection between the three. They may share a close shave with leaving life behind, but that is not enough to make the point of Hereafter interesting. He can throw as many characters and actors into this fantastic ensemble as he likes, but none of that matters when the story is embarrassingly disconnected and cruel to all the wrong characters.
But that is the lack of focus kicking in. For all his ambition, Eastwood falls prey to the problems of flawed individuals becoming simple anecdotes for abuse or addiction. Alcoholic parents, manipulative brothers hoping to advance their own life with the help of a talented other, or just plain bad luck in a natural disaster. There is a reason behind all of Hereafter, but the relation it has to the story is non-existent. It is just an example of how a character connected to death has avoided it themselves. There are better ways of doing that. But not the way Eastwood does it. He manages to choose one of the very few avenues that can add nothing to the story, yet stir up poor controversy.
Bizarre at the best, yet incredibly redundant and a tad uncoordinated when it mentions the 2005 London Bombings for no particular reason. Eastwood fails to adapt these delicate pieces of material in any serious or interesting way. Instead, they come off with a bad taste and little effect. Damon and this ensemble cast are briefly interesting. While they are not out of their element, they certainly don’t have much to offer. Nor does Eastwood. It is at least the low point of a different branch of his filmmaking techniques. Sloppy Hereafter may be, it is at least a change of pace for him. He no longer lingers on the glory days of the western, and steps far out of his comfort zone. Shamefully, he drags everyone out of it with him and has no reason to do so, and nothing to show for it.