With Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Frankie and George McLaren. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language. 129 minutes.
HEREAFTER is the latest from Clint Eastwood, who has transformed himself over the last twenty years from a ‘60s and ‘70s action star to one of the most interesting and important movie directors of our time. Not bad for a guy who just turned 80. Although one wishes him many more years of health and productivity, it’s not surprising that he might be attracted to a story that asks what happens when we die and how do we, the living, cope with it. This might have been a thoughtful and even profound movie. Might have been.
Alas, he’s working with a script by Peter Morgan who handled dramatizing real stories – like “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” – with great skill, but here has crafted what turns out to be a shaggy dog story. After following three characters over 129 minutes, the clumsy method of bringing them together, not to mention the limp payoff, is a disappointment. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.
One story is about Marie Lelay (Cécile De France), a French journalist who has a near-death experience during a tsunami. It is a riveting and scary sequence. She comes back changed, and has trouble focusing on day-to-day affairs. Meanwhile, in England, twin boys (played apparently interchangeably by Frankie and George McLaren), watch out for each other while tending to their mother, who has addiction problems. One of the boys is killed in a tragic accident and the other becomes obsessed with contacting his older-by-12-minutes and stronger brother.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a retired psychic. He is presented as really being able to contact deceased relatives, but has become burnt out by the experience. Every living relationship he has soon ends because of the dead hand of the past. He meets a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) at a cooking class, and the question is whether it will happen again. Meanwhile, his brother (Jay Mohr) is trying to get George to go back into the psychic business, doing “readings” for hire.
These stories go on and on and yet don’t take us anywhere. The reporter becomes more obsessed with research into near-death experiences. The young boy, now in foster care, keeps running off looking for someone who can reconnect him with his dead brother, which leads to a scene involving a terrorist attack in the London subway that is totally gratuitous to the story. And George pouts, having only the comfort of plummy recordings of Charles Dickens novels read by Derek Jacobi, who has a cameo playing himself.
Finally, the lives intersect and the various stories are resolved, more or less. However, it ends not with some deeper understanding, or even a pondering of any great questions about the meaning of life and death. Instead, we’re told – along with the characters – to get on with it. Stop brooding and live your life. It’s not so much that the message is wrong as whether we needed to endure two hours of not very interesting stories about not particularly interesting people to get that lesson.
Perhaps people who haven’t given much thought at all to this, “Hereafter” will seem meaningful. For this reviewer, however, it seemed undead on arrival.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.