As Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter begins, the Warner Bros. logo fades to black and the sound of crashing waves fills the theater. The first image is a slow reveal of the beach and, sure enough, it’s Maui’s West side. I was ecstatic to see the West Maui mountains and other familiar landmarks on the big screen—but my ecstasy ended after 10 minutes, when a massive tsunami decimates Front Street. The scene is well-staged and the special effects are impressive, but seeing Maui get hit by a major disaster—even one concocted by Hollywood f/x—wasn’t fun and made me unexpectedly uncomfortable. Anyone who loves the Valley Isle as much as I do will likely have a similar reaction.
How’s the rest of the movie? Pretty solid, actually. Having survived the opening catastrophe, a French journalist (Cecile De France) begins to experience flashbacks of the afterlife, which leads her career in a bold new direction. We also meet a San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon) who is seeking a low profile after years of contacting the dead for hire, and a set of English twins (played by real-life siblings George and Frank McLaren) with an unbreakable bond. These three story threads explore how the supernatural weaves its way into people’s lives and how skepticism and belief play an equal part in accepting the unexplainable.
Many have commented that Eastwood is going out of his element here and trying something different, but when hasn’t that been the case? In the past 20 years he’s directed movies about an underdog boxer, geriatric astronauts, philosophical cowboys, Georgia drag queens, Nelson Mandela and World War II from the point of view of American and Japanese soldiers. His latest is flush with dazzling scenes and confirms that, at 80 years old, he’s still one of the most versatile, unpredictable and reliably great American filmmakers.
The movie isn’t as somber or heavy-handed as you might expect from the plot description; in fact it’s at times playful and even funny. The performances are top-notch: Damon gives an exceptional, introverted turn, while the McLaren brothers are simply fantastic. The cast also includes Jay Mohr, Derek Jacobi (amusingly playing himself) and Bryce Dallas Howard, who is outstanding in a haunting, pivotal role.
For most of the way, I thought I was watching one of the best films of the year, but not every story thread is as strong as it should be, the pacing is occasionally ponderous and the conclusion falls into the grand sentimentality that can be Eastwood’s Achilles’ heel. Yet despite these flaws, it’s a memorable movie-going experience.
As for the Eastwood/Lahaina connection, here’s one I prefer to a CGI tsunami: if you wander into Dan’s Greenhouse on Lahainaluna road, you’ll find a Polaroid on the wall of the director and his newly purchased pet: a plump, boisterous pot-bellied pig. Eastwood’s choices are always surprising