Clint Eastwood's latest film opens with a tsunami sequence that is as impressive and powerful as anything you'll see in cinemas this year. Sadly, for fans of Eastwood, that sequence is the high point of Hereafter, a contemplative meditation on mortality where “contemplative meditation” is a generous euphemism for “deadly dull”.
That tsunami (of Boxing Day 2004 infamy) sweeps up holidaying French journalist, Marie Lelay (Cecille de France), briefly claiming her life – where she has visions of an afterlife – before she comes spluttering back to the real world. Marie's brush with 'the other side' leaves her changed – haunted and full of questions – and sets in motion a journey that is inevitably linked with two complete strangers.
One of those strangers is young Londoner Marcus, grieving the loss of his twin brother, Jason (played by real life brothers, Frankie and George McClaren). Removed from the care of his drug addicted mother and into a foster home, the lost boy searches for a way to re-connect with his older (by 12 minutes) brother, visiting a variety of psychics who do the clairvoyancy industry a great disservice, and very little for a little boy's faith.
The third stranger is George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a San Francisco dockworker trying to escape his past as a psychic (he is the real deal). This proves impossible given his brother's eagerness to exploit his talent (or curse, as George tells us more than once), and George's inability to control it; the moment he touches someone, he has visions of their dearly departed. It makes any kind of social life difficult and romance, which looks to be in the offing with fellow Italian cooking student, Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), doomed from the outset.
All three stories unfold separately before they inevitably (and clumsily) come together in the film's third act. But much like the film's overall stance on the possibility of an afterlife (vague and non-committal), Hereafter ends without resolution or answers. Indeed, it leaves you asking, what the f*ck?
Now 80, Eastwood could be forgiven for allowing his thoughts to turn to one's mortality. What can't be excused is a boring film. Some reviewers (those who tend to have a permanent hard on for the man's work) have praised Eastwood here for his classic filmmaking style and his embracing of a European aesthetic. Whatever.
I'm not an Eastwood fan but I believe he's a better director than an actor. I do admire some of his films (Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima) but struggle to understand the high praise for others, like Gran Torino, or even the Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby. For me, Hereafter falls into that latter category.
Equally surprising is that Brit scribe Peter Morgan is responsible the screenplay. Morgan, who penned The Queen, The Damned United and Frost/Nixon, all films about real life figures and recent historical events, seems to be less assured when dealing with an original concept or three stories instead of one.
There's no denying an interesting film is trying to break out of Hereafter, but unlike with Damon's George, that connection requires a hell of a lot of effort to be made. For more involving and entertaining looks at the afterlife, why not try The Sixth Sense, or even the Ricky Gervais comedy, Ghost Town? Neither is particularly insightful about the nature of death but they're also less likely to induce it through boredom.