I’ve said before in this blog that you can’t underestimate Clint Eastwood come awards season. But I’m beginning to think that’s not the case any more. Changeling and Gran Torino had little effect on awards season while Invictus couldn’t ride Eastwood to Best Picture as plenty thought it would.

And now Hereafter has quickly dropped from memory. I’m not going to say that fate is undeserved, but it’s a more ambitious and memorable film than Eastwood’s recent works. I had loads of problems with it, but it has still hung around in my head the past few months.

The plot ruminates on life after death via three characters. Matt Damon has some sort of visionary power that allows him to see people’s departed loved ones, a skill he sees as a curse since it prevents him from living a normal life. Cécile De France is a French journalist who narrowly survives the Asian tsunami in the film’s harrowing opening. She experiences a glimpse of the afterlife and uses her journalistic skills to investigate. Finally, Frankie and George McLaren play grade school twins. One is killed and the other looks for answers.

The film has some real narrative problems and the usual Eastwood problems. Each thread is beset by problems and dull stretches. When the stories finally meet it’s unsatisfying. Really everything feels like it needs a tightening up, which makes sense since it was apparently shot off an early draft of Peter Morgan’s script. Some of the acting is suspect.

"Act sadder!"

But even as I fidgeted in my seat during the story’s missteps, I was still taken in by the film’s thoughtful address of its themes. The characters’ struggles, particularly Damon’s and De France’s, are affecting. De France’s segment looks at the science behind the common “peace and bright light” near-death experiences while Damon’s wonders if we should even strive to know the answer to the afterlife.

Don’t go into Hereafter expecting an answer. Perhaps at his age Eastwood knows that answers don’t come easy. And while I would understand if the film’s story problems kills it for you, I found viewing to be a rewarding experience, albeit one I like better to look back on than I did while sitting through it.

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