Movie Review: “Hereafter”

Clint Eastwood’s late life/late career fascination with mortality, death and grieving devolves, at long last, into a cheap parlor trick in “Hereafter.” This wholly unsatisfying variation on “what lies beyond” shows him to be ill-suited to the subject and to the sort of tale that involves setting three disparate characters on a path toward one another for a finale that isn’t so much a pay off as a “Yeah, and?”

He attracted talent from Matt Damon, playing a reluctant San Francisco psychic who avoids “connections” with the dead, to Derek Jacobi, in a cameo as Derek Jacobi, the actor who reads Charles Dickens’ novels onto CD. That Eastwood loses track of Damon, his ostensible hero, and makes Jacobi’s appearance one of the more glaring “I’d really like to work with him, but I haven’t a role for him” moments in recent film history.

But “Hereafter” opens with a whopper — an epic recreation of the 2005 Indian Ocean tsumani. Cecile De France plays Marie, a French tourist who drowns in the tidal wave, only to revive after seeing a child she tried to save walk off into a hazy light.  Marie is a reporter, but is so shaken by the experience that she runs away from the biggest story of her career, back to France where she tries to rationalize what she went through.

Frankie and George McLaren play British twins, boys who spend their days bonding and covering for their substance abusing mom. One is killed in an accident and the survivor is haunted by the loss.

Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, George (Damon) is running a forklift, hiding from his former life as a psychic for hire. His brother (Jay Mohr, underplaying for once) insists he has “a gift” and a “duty” to share it. But George knows the lonely life that holds, and how little chance he has of meeting someone.

“A life that’s all about that is no life at all.”

Maybe that lady he’s partnered with in his Italian cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard, a bit too obvious in what is far from her best performance) will be interested. If only he can stop “seeing” the dead people in her past.

Eastwood, working from a Peter Morgan (“The Queen” ) script, fritters away over two hours, failing to find suspense or heart in these three lives. When you can’t wring tears out of a child’s death or a vast tragedy, maybe this isn’t the script for you.  Damon plays George as emotionally exhausted and can’t seem to summon up the empathy that he keeps saying his character has. De France, working in both French and English, doesn’t for one second suggest the urgent need to know what it was she experienced, or tell the world about it.

And the payoff’s promised catharsis is nothing of the sort. This “Herefter,” despite the odd engaging moment, is a terrible letdown, like investing in a belief system and discovering there’s no “here” that you’ve been after all your life.

Cast: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard

Director: Clint Eastwood

Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.

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