The title of Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort suggests that the film might explore some of the questions we constantly ask ourselves about the great beyond.
Instead, Hereafter is pretty much a movie about how hard it is to get laid when you are a psychic.
Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan take three characters (an American psychic, a French reporter and a London schoolboy) and attempt to interweave their stories into a cohesive piece. Alas, they never quite achieve a sense of purpose other than giving the central star a chance to act solemn for more than two hours.
Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, a San Francisco sugar-factory worker who has the gift of being able to chat with dead people. He formerly exploited this fact for money, but the whole notion of conversing with the deceased has him feeling cursed, and he wants to be left alone. His shifty brother Billy (Jay Mohr) sees a potential goldmine, and constantly urges George to capitalize on his powers.
George resists, insisting upon working his blue-collar job and signing up for cooking classes, where he meets Bay Area newcomer Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), who basically admits that she signed up for the class to meet dudes. The two decide to hang out, and George seems to be heading for a night of bliss with Richie Cunningham's hot daughter. Instead, the night degenerates into a reluctant psychic reading, and lots of uneaten food.
Elsewhere, Marie LeLay (Cécile de France), an investigative reporter, has a brush with death after being swept away in a tsunami. After returning to her job, she can't stop thinking about visions she had while unconscious. These visions are, of course, the typical blurry sights of people standing around bathed in white light. (Honestly, if there is an afterlife, I hope it isn't as clichéd as people standing around clueless in bright light. I'm pulling for flat screens and ice cream for everybody!)
Finally, there's Marcus (played by twins George and Frankie McLaren), a young Londoner who loses his brother in a freak accident and begins searching for answers.
Each of the three main characters will eventually cross paths, because, well, it just makes for convenient storytelling. I suppose there's supposed to be some sort of spiritual, higher-level meaning for their meeting, but it fails to register.
Damon, always an interesting performer, isn't given much to do with George. His ability to see brief glimpses of the afterlife is treated as a nuisance, like being allergic to wheat or something. Yes, the idea of a gifted person feeling cursed instead of blessed is an interesting concept, but it's sort of boring this time out.
De France's story arc—she essentially loses her job and her boyfriend because she can't quite cope with the aftereffects of near-death—feels like well-worn territory. She's an interesting actress, but because the film is mostly about Damon's character, her section of the movie feels underdeveloped.
The McLaren brothers certainly have their moments (Marcus getting a reading from George is an especially good one), but their story also feels as if it deserved more attention.
Steven Spielberg produced this movie, which makes sense, because Eastwood's version of the afterlife looks exactly like the aliens and people coming out of the mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. All that's missing is a funky, gangly creature doing hand signals.
Perhaps Eastwood and Morgan could've shaved off one of the characters and concentrated on two stories rather than three. As it stands, the film has the distinction of feeling overlong and underdeveloped at the same time. It also feels a little sleepy, thanks to another Clint Eastwood score that sounds like every other piece of music he's ever written.