A meditation on life after death
by Jason Blair
HEREAFTER: Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Peter Morgan. Cinematography, Tom Stern. Music, Clint Eastwood. Starring Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Jay Mohr and Bryce Dallas Howard. Warner Bros., 2010. PG-13. 129 minutes.
|Matt Damon in Hereafter|
Fresh off the overrated Invictus, and before that the merely tolerable Gran Torino, and before that the middling Changeling — you get the idea — director Clint Eastwood returns with Hereafter, a film with a fainter pulse than the departed souls moving through it. While in some respects the film is Eastwood’s best in many years, particularly in its light touch and resolutely international scope, ultimately these aspects undermine the production, which seems bent on telling no story whatsoever. Say what you will about Gran Torino, there was at least a there there, dramatically speaking. All Hereafter accomplishes, after raising a few interesting possibilities about near-death, is the most circuitous voyage for a cast of characters since Magellan rounded Cape Horn.
Eastwood still attracts top-tier talent, and Hereafter is no exception. Matt Damon stars as George, a lumpy, misshapen clairvoyant who can genuinely speak with the dead. Not long ago, George made a living doing “readings,” as his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) calls them, but nowadays George is barely alive himself. He’s seen too much, or been loved too little, or both, and in general he sees himself as a wreck on the shores of life. A world away from George, who lives in San Francisco, is the serenely beautiful Marie (Céline de France), a French television reporter in the mold of Bill Moyers, only with a much, much better haircut. While in Thailand on assignment, Marie is caught in the waters of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Briefly swept away, she experiences a near-death event but lives to tell the story, the result of which is neither joy or guilt but confusion and alienation. In other words, George has company.
The parallel stories fall into a predictable helix of personal discovery and unconventional behavior. As we await the eventual (and highly predictable) intersection of George and Marie, we witness George give romance a final try while Marie views her boyfriend with newly minted doubts. Each bolts for the relatively uncomplicated scene of London — except that in screenwriter Peter Morgan’s view, London is about as safe as Baghdad on a busy night. In the film’s most tender and successful storyline, the gentle Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is struggling with the loss of his twin brother Jason (George McLaren), who was hit by a London car while evading some street youth who tried to rob him. Still grieving, Marcus nearly boards the Tube at Charing Cross one morning, only to have a supernatural wind blow his ballcap from his head. Moments later, the train he meant to board explodes, the suggestion being that perhaps Jason isn’t really that dead yet.
Both too long and somehow missing whole chapters, Hereafter is yet another overly sentimental parable for Eastwood, who seems as unfit for the fantasy genre as his screenwriter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon). The effort here is well-meant, and there’s certainly a large heart beating in Hereafter, but after a while its tones are just dull and monotonous. Relying on actual tragedies (tsunamis, the 2005 London bombings) might seem an inspired idea for a story about the paranormal, but Morgan and Eastwood fail to turn the connections into compelling drama. In the end, Hereafter is an out-of-pocket experience that doesn’t deliver the goods.