Review: “Hereafter” (2010)

hereaftertsunamiCecile De France and friend

Immediately after leaving the theatre where I saw Clint Eastwood‘s new supernatural-adjacent drama/romance Hereafter, I bit my tongue so hard that it bled for over an hour. Existential types might suggest that after having seen a lengthy meditation on life and death I might have wanted to feel something real and tangible.

I think I just wanted to taste blood.

A rambling, dull and at times epically cheesy non-thriller that brings together three disparate people dealing with questions about the afterlife, Hereafter is one of the most confusing movies I’ve ever seen. Not because of anything that happens in the movie, mind you – but because I can’t comprehend why the movie exists.

A ploddingly-paced, thinly-drawn trio of equally unsatisfying narratives that combine into one triply disappointing mega-meh, Hereafter doesn’t so much ask questions about the afterlife as threaten to. The result is a half-hearted, halfwit drama that feels about as carefully considered and cohesive as the goofy classical guitar noodling that makes up much of its incongruous score.

hereafterdamonhowardBryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon

In Situation A, Matt Damon plays George, a San Francisco sugar factory worker (not nearly as gay as it sounds) who also happens to be a reluctant psychic. Much to brother Jay Mohr‘s chagrin, he has left behind a career of doing painfully accurate psychic readings and now lives as a sweater-loving hermit (although he hasn’t taken down his awesome psychic website, which uses his piercing blue eyes to their full effect).

George (played well by Damon, in full-on “nice guy” mode) has resorted to taking evening adult education classes to meet new people, despite having lived in San Fran all his life. He meets an elven flake (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the two embark on a shaky romance, but will his secret (and inability to touch anyone without seeing dead people around them) get in the way?

I’ll let you guess.

hereaftercecileThierry Neuvic does his best to fix Cecile’s hair

In Situation B, a French anchorwoman named Maria (High Tension‘s Cecile De France, saddled with the most distracting hairdo of the decade) is nearly killed when a tsunami strikes during a tropical vacation with her impossibly handsome lover/producer (Thierry Neuvic). She is brought back from death but is changed, as she now knows that death is not the end. No – death is actually bright white fuzziness with soft-focus figures in it that looks like the cross between an Olen Mills First Communion portrait and the final scene of Close Encounters.

Her newfound interest in the afterlife jeopardizes her career as a serious journalist, her love affair, and her modeling gig with Blackberry (not even kidding – it’s but one of several prominent high-tech product tie-ins). Will she regain her footing and learn the truth about life after death?

hereafterinternetA McLaren discovers Google

In Situation C, two young British twins (played alternately by Frankie, George and Daniel McLaren) who spend their time covering for their junkie mother (bear with me) are beset by tragedy when one is killed and the other sent to a foster home. He becomes obsessed with finding out where his brother went, which leads to some Internet searches and a trip to a book fair. Aaand that’s about it.

While Hereafter seems to think that it is breaking new ground by asking Big Questions about the afterlife, it’s frightfully derivative. Honestly – if you’ve seen one movie about people who communicate with the dead (The Gift, Ghost, even) you’ve seen everything here. Despite being over two hours long (two slow, creeping hours), Hereafter doesn’t feel remotely finished, only having scratched the surface of its central subject. Not that I’d want to sit through a minute more of it, mind you…

It’s a shame, because the movie held scads of promise – and not just because of the stunning disaster scene that starts out the film, which is suitably devastating. Eastwood is a solid filmmaker, and Damon is a dependable and likable lead – actually, last year’s pairing of the two on Invictus led to a sports movie that even I could enjoy. Only one scene really captures the goosepimply thrill of supernatural drama (where George shares an uncomfortable moment with his impossibly perky prospective ladyfriend); the other attempts at establishing mystery range from tepid to downright corny.

Hereafter-MovieHoward and Damon

While a sensitive and versatile director, Eastwood is also a very masculine filmmaker, and it doesn’t feel like this film – which is about a French woman, a child and a semi-ascetic bachelor in San Francisco who takes cooking classes – is necessarily within his comfort zone. Several of the more earnest scenes careen into melodrama and at points Eastwood seems so unsure of his choices that he a slaps made-for-TV score on top of everything in an apparent attempt to mask them. There were points where the music was so monumentally out-of-place that I almost laughed out loud.

In the end, I just can’t see much reason to see Hereafter, aside from a harrowing opening action sequence that, after the two hours of talking that follow, is little more than a waterlogged memory. While the movie asks a few questions, it doesn’t ask them very loudly – and it spends far too much of its time trying to arrange its storylines to collide and far too little time actually exploring its central subject. Like the visions of its gifted central characters, the film ultimately feels vague and poorly-rendered.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

ReviewOneSkully

Hereafter is Rated PG-13 for gratuitous English moppets, a scene of peril and a remarkably gay-free San Francisco.


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