When Clint Eastwood directs even routine genre exercises they tend to be wildly overpraised, so I can only imagine what lies ahead for Hereafter, his consideration of nothing less than the afterlife.
Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen), Hereafter interweaves three tales from around the globe. In San Francisco, psychic George Lonegan (Matt Damon) sees his ability to communicate with the dead as a curse, not a gift. In France, a famous television journalist (Cecile De France) begins having visions after enduring a near-death experience. And in London, twin brothers (George and Frankie McLaren) are forced to deal with mortality in their own way.
All three story lines are grappling with the same BIG question: What happens to us after we die?
How does Eastwood answer? Limply.
Dour, dull and often unnecessarily cast in dark shadow, Hereafter does a lot of brooding about life after death, but it doesn’t really express much intellectual curiosity. Like many Eastwood films, it adopts his laconic screen personality and pushes it to the extreme. There are moments when you want to nudge Hereafter to make sure it’s awake.
When it is conscious, there are some nice touches. Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard have a sexy flirting scene during a group cooking class – it makes you think Howard was cast strictly for her mouth – while the McLarens, as the sad-faced twins, seem to have sprung up from some lost short story by Frank McCourt.
Indeed, Hereafter offers three mildly intriguing tales – it’s just that they don’t really add up to much, or even connect. A creaky finale finds a way to bring the major characters together at a book fair, but only to offer a climax that’s awkward and contrived.
Meanwhile, does Hereafter ever get around to suggesting what life after death might be? That is the driving question of the narrative, yet all the movie offers are the usual suspects: bright lights, blurry faces and a camera that dutiful pans toward the sky at the end of scenes. Clint Eastwood’s idea of heaven is about as stimulating as a cup of Sleepytime tea.