Afterwards is exquisitely filmed. It immediately captivates from the very first image of a swam flying across a lake in slow-motion with its wing tips brushing the water. Gilles Bourdos shoots with a modern photographers eye (more so than necessarily a cinematographers eye), taking delight in such things as the play of light as it moves across the reflection of New York City high rises dancing like a will of the wisp. Or of climactic scenes shot in the middle of a New Mexico desertscape that is pure white, looking as though the characters are walking through snow.
Bourdos creates a sense of sophisticated allure. The central figure of mystery is John Malkovich who plays at his most aloof but also, uncharacteristically for Malkovich, his most empathic. Malkovichs character becomes immediately fascinating in the scenes when he takes Romain Duris down into a subway and predicts how a man opposite is about to commit suicide. Exactly who or what Malkovichs Messenger is becomes the central enigma that plays throughout the film. Everything hovers on a M. Night Shyamalan-esque sense of a protagonist about to discover his destiny. The script does an excellent job of building up the idea of what a man would do if he knew he were about to die and wheeling the play of fate out in some ways, the film almost comes to represent an arthouse version of Final Destination (2000). Maybe by way of say a film like Fearless (1993). Malkovichs character is also named Joseph Kay, which surely becomes a tipping of the hat to the existential mazes of Franz Kafka a Joseph K was the central character of Kafkas most famous work The Trial (1925).
Where the film does fall down is in its latter third. The script does an excellent job of building up the mystery and fascination surrounding John Malkovich. However, the latter section slows down and simply becomes about Romain Duris reconnecting with his ex (Evangeline Lilly) and daughter (Sara Waisglass). This is less interesting and the film peters out by the time of a weak twist ending.
Romain Duris plays with a certain handsomeness and is well suited to the part. The problem the film faces is that it is trying to be an American-set work and has cast a French actor where Romain Duriss intonation of the English-language dialogue tends to come out as a clipped, suppressed monotone and is flatly robotic at times. Evangeline Lilly, then riding on the success of tvs Lost (2004-10), is appropriately lovely in her first film role.