Death is always an iffy subject in movies. Because we have no idea what to expect, the idea of what the afterlife is like is always up to the director. So in the case of say…”The Lovely Bones,” Peter Jackson’s version was colorful and chock full of random, beautiful images. In Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice,” the afterlife was a gruesome and crazy place with tilted doorways and the dead wandering around holding their disembodied parts. In this film, Clint Eastwood imagines the afterlife much like most would choose to imagine. It’s a serene and peaceful place where you yearn to go. And it’s within this premise that this story builds around 3 separate storylines. One centers on an American psychic. Another follows a French reporter who is swept into the current of a tsunami, changing her life forever. And the other follows a little boy who loses his identical twin brother in an accident.

Let me just say that going into this movie, I really wanted it to be one of the better films of this year. I didn’t care much for Eastwood’s last film, “Gran Torino,” which was a study in racism and under-acting. However this film has a couple of big name actors (Matt Damon being the most notable) and a premise that intrigues me, so I went in with an open mind. And for the most point, “Hereafter” did not disappoint. It’s definitely a quality film. However, much like most of Eastwood’s films, the middle kind of drags as the storylines gel and it’s in the middle that I found myself wondering how it was going to end and when it would get there.

In the lead role, Matt Damon is psychic George Lonegan. This was a role taylor-made for Damon. As much as I would like to think he can be pigeonholed into action roles like “Bourne Identity,” the guy continues to impress and this role is so subtle and heartbreaking for him that it has notched up my appreciation of his abilities. In the 2nd storyline, French actress Cecile De France is the reporter who finds herself being swept undercurrent and then experiencing life after death. De France’s Marie LeLay is the true heart of this movie. The only credit she has that I have ever heard of is the 2003 horror flick “High Tension.” She has starred in many foreign films though and her ability to convey emotion without speaking a word is one of the highlights of this movie. She’s a natural beauty and her grace under such stressful situations throughout the film is a treat to watch. I’m thinking Oscar nod for her performance here. And lastly, the young McLaren brothers who play the twins in the 3rd storyline. They turn in a fine performance as the grieving brother who can’t let go of his loss. I assume they both play the role after the death, but I’m not sure. IMDB has them both listed as playing the role so I have to assume they split the duty and did an excellent job.

2 other outstanding performances come from Bryce Dallas Howard as a woman who Lonegan meets in a cooking class. Her performance wasn’t necessary in this film, but I found it to be very good (as usual). And also the little boys’ mother, played by Lyndsay Marshall, who plays a drug addicted alcoholic. She doesn’t get too much screen time, but when she does she is as honest a portrayal of a woman torn between loss and her addictions as any I have ever seen.

“Hereafter” is not a film that is a fun night out. It asks a lot of questions and most of them are never answered. It’s basically the lives of 3 different people and how they are dealing with various levels of grief. Death is an underlying current but all 3 main characters are grieving in different ways. It’s not until the end that we learn how each will handle how they feel and it’s in that last 15 minutes where all the loose ends tie together and the film magically works. Too bad it takes so long in the middle to get where it wants to go. It doesn’t take away from the movie itself, but there are several places that probably could have been cut (the entire Howard role, several scenes of Damon sitting around in his empty apartment). I know the purpose of those scenes (to show Lonegan’s loneliness), but it doesn’t take so many of them for me to understand his plight.

Never the less…this IS a very good movie. It’s opening scene is one of the best opening scenes of any movie I’ve seen in recent memory and all performances are top notch. It’s also a very well-written movie and that should get it a lot of statue opportunities later next year.

Rating: Opening hour: A+
Middle hour: B
End of Film: A+

Overall Rating: A

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