This “Hereafter” is Lifeless

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

At the ripe old age of 80, Clint Eastwood is perhaps the most prolific filmmaker today. From being an icon of masculinity as an actor to an Oscar-winning director, he has certainly proven that he is capable of making great films. Unfortunately, this is not the case with “Hereafter,” which may be his dullest and weakest work to date.

Penned by the usually reliable screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”), the film tells three parallel stories following three people from different countries who are affected by death in different ways.

Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) is a popular French television journalist who briefly dies when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hits the coast of Thailand, where she is vacationing. Before she crosses back over to life, she witnesses shadowy figures in a world of blinding white light. Perturbed by this vision, she attempts to find further information about her experience.

George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is an American blue-collar factory worker and a former psychic who, when touching another person’s hands, can interact with the dead. While his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) believes that George can be rich by capitalizing from his “gift,” George believes that his “curse” is hindering his chances at a normal life.

Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren respectively) are British twin brothers who struggle to keep their family together. However, when a car accident takes Jason’s life, the family crumbles and Marcus finds it difficult to move forward without Jason by his side, and therefore longs to somehow communicate with his brother again.

In a way, “Hereafter” is a misleading title. The film is not so much about the possibility of the existence of afterlife as it is about how people come to terms with death. Thus, the film doesn’t provide many answers at all, nor does it seek to do so.

With that being said, the film is a character-driven one, but that’s where the problem lies, for none of these characters’ stories are interesting enough to be compelling (in fact, they get rather boring) and as a result really test the audience’s patience.

From the film’s opening shot until the final act, the plot structure goes in this specific order: Marie to George to Marcus. Repeat. This becomes deeply frustrating when you encounter something intriguing in one story, and must wait through two chapters (which are more insipid than not) from the other stories before you return to what you want to watch.

Moreover, the film is very disjointed. Aside from the fact that George, Marcus and Marie encounter death, there is nothing that truly connects and binds these three stories together. Although they converge towards one another and culminate in one sequence at the end, the way this happens takes the meaning of coincidence to a whole new level and simply becomes unbelievable.

Nevertheless, many of the film’s elements do invite discussion and thought and are open to interpretation. For example, does George really communicate with the dead, or does he simply see people’s inner demons and ultimately tell them what they need – or want – to hear? Can the dead really interact with the living?

Damon doesn’t really do anything special with his performance, for he only seems to be meeting the bare necessities for his character. Compared to his roles in other films, this is probably his most subdued.

While a relatively unknown actress and a new face to American cinema, De France appears to be comfortable with her role, which is probably due to the fact that she speaks French in the majority of her scenes (yes, the film has subtitles). Fortunately, she makes the most out of her character by expressing the right emotions.

On the other hand, Frankie McLaren is a pain to watch. His character is arguably the most emotional, but his delivery of those needed emotions is lacking and cringe-worthy, and reinforces the truth that he has little prior acting experience.

The film’s opening sequence of a tsunami is enthralling and is easily the best moment in the whole film, for Eastwood doesn’t treat it as a spectacle like other directors have. Instead of focusing on the tsunami’s scale, he focuses on Marie as she is buffeted by its force in order to accentuate the tragedy of this event.

Eastwood uses the same color palate (a bluish tint) as he did in his previous films. At this point, he ought to opt for a new look, for it has become monotonous. Nonetheless, it complements cinematographer Tom Stern’s use of natural lighting well.

In addition to his role as the director, Eastwood is also the film’s music composer. Although his score isn’t very noteworthy, it does show that he is an accomplished pianist.

While the individual parts of “Hereafter” may work well by themselves, the screenplay that brings them together results in a jumbled mess of a film. After watching the film, some may ask if Eastwood is losing his touch. Probably not — he just got unlucky with this one. Here’s to hoping that he’ll fare better with his next picture.

Rating: 2 out of 5