I oftentimes find myself grossly swindled by movie trailers, but in the case of Clint Eastwood’s new “supernatural” thriller, Hereafter, the plodding, head-scratching trailer matched the contents of Dirty Harry’s movie to the letter. I read a review this morning opining that only Clint Eastwood could have directed such a lovely movie about life-after-death, but I wholeheartedly disagree on both points: This isn’t a movie about life-after-death (more on that later), and Clint Eastwood absolutely couldn’t be the only director to handle such a film, because this movie felt like the hokey, lethargic movies M. Night Shyalmalan has been creating as of late.
Hereafter follows three separate stories and characters, the first of which is Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), a French television journalist who barely survives what appears to be a recreation of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. While I thought the CGI in this opening bit was a little on the cartoonish side (think Roland Emmerich’s 2012), it still is unnerving, intense and I found myself considering things about that disaster that had never occurred to me (debris and downed electric lines killing people). All in all, Marie is pulled out of the water and seems to be dead, however, as we expect, she returns from the foggy, undisclosed netherregions and returns to France, her job and her husband/boyfriend. Distracted and distraught by her near-death experience, she takes a leave of absence from her job and begins work on a book that examines the seemingly taboo subject of near death experiences.
In San Francisco we meet George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who seems to be Mr. Blue Collar Everyman. Lonegan is just a mild-mannered, down-to-earth guy trying to earn a decent living and, despite his peculiar gift, live some semblance of a normal life. His gift is an ability to communicate with the dead. Apparently his brother, Billy (Jay Mohr), had George knee-deep in the psychic business, but George was tired of living a life that revolved around the sadness of death. We truly feel for George Lonegan, especially when a sliver of happiness appears in his life by way of a fellow cooking school student, Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), but then disappears quickly after George reluctantly gives her a reading and learns of some embarrassing truths in her past.
Lastly, in England, we witness the pain a young boy, Marcus (Frankie McLaren), goes through when his twin brother Jason (George McLaren) dies in a tragic car accident and his drug-addicted mother (Lyndsey Marshal) drops out of his life to enter rehab. Marcus, who has always had his brother to lean on, is lost and confused. Marcus begins to search out different psychics and, when he has run the gamut of kooks and charlatans, happens upon the old, outdated and non-functional website of George Lonegan. He eventually meets Lonegan, who, as we expect, gives him a reluctant reading, and the scene between the two is one of the more tender scenes in the film.
So what’s the point, right? Well, I’m not sure there is one. The three main characters are appealing enough and the acting is well-done, but the story rambles aimlessly through various events and other semi-interesting characters, but the movie never really embraces any semblance of order and feels incomplete. This movie has touches of Clint Eastwood, and I appreciate his intent and creativity, but this movie isn’t his best work.
Many other critics argue this movie is about life after death and hoping for an afterlife of some sorts, but I think it’s simpler. I think it’s about love and, in all honesty, romance. George Lonegan is searching for it and he feels it almost instantly when his path crosses with Marie Lelay’s at the end of the movie. The same is true with Marcus and his mother. People need love, they want to be loved and this one thought bleeds into a worthwhile, smile-inducing, romantic ending for all the characters. The problem is we got lost on Boredom Highway on the way there and the finale can’t redeem the sleepy middle.