I found Clint Eastwood's African sports drama Invictus to be stodgy, tedious Oscar bait, so news that his next movie was going to be a "supernatural thriller" starring Matt Damon showed promise and had me thinking that maybe he'd loosen up to recapture some of the spark and personality that made 2008's Gran Torino so much fun. What can I say? We all make mistakes. Hereafter is as much thriller as Schindler's List is a comedy; it's so bloodless and bone-dry that if a spark went off nearby I believe it would catch fire. Between this and Crash and Babel I'm pretty sure that if I have to watch one more turgid drama about the interconnectedness of humanity I'm gonna attempt to build a Death Star so that I can blow up the planet.
The film follows three primary characters in three mostly independent storylines. First we have Cécile de France (and yes, it is comically absurd for someone's last name to be the same as their country) as Marie LeLay, a French TV journalist who briefly dies during a tsunami and sees white light and human figures, but is resuscitated and begins a campaign to discover all she can about she afterlife she believes she glimpsed. Next up is Matt Damon as an American psychic named George Lonnegan who can touch people and commune with their deceased loved ones, an ability he once marketed but has left his personal life in disarray. And finally we have a young British kid named Marcus who's trying to contact a dead relative beyond the grave so that he can find peace.
You win absolutely nothing if you noticed the main thread linking these three souls: the afterlife, of course, something which Hereafter unambiguously posits exists seeing as Damon knows things via talking to the dead that he'd have no way of knowing otherwise. And that'd be fine and dandy, same as the straightforwardly-presented afterlife in The Sixth Sense was fine and dandy, except that Eastwood makes things bizarrely political with de France's story by having her initial attempts at researching the afterlife thwarted and defunded by anti-afterlife fanatics who think she's gone mad. I don't know how it is in France but here in the United States something like four out of five people believe in the afterlife, so it's pretty fucking insane to release an American film presenting believers as some kind of persecuted minority fighting the good fight. I try to leave my religious beliefs out of reviews but in this case they made me find the whole film to be an absurd farce.
But even stepping back from its metaphysical argument Hereafter remains a dull and plodding affair devoid of anyone to connect to. De France does nothing but babble on about the afterlife and the kid Marcus does nothing except sulk, steal money from his foster parents, and visit a series of phony psychics. Matt Damon is the only one of the three who comes close to emerging as an interesting, rounded character (which I don't just say because he's the biggest star) thanks to a thorough examination of the way being forced to speak to the dead has left him lonely and isolated. True, The Sixth Sense examined the exact same thing, but Hereafter does it in a much more dry and realistic way. If ghosts were sex, The Sixth Sense would be a porno; Hereafter would be a gynecological exam video made for med school.
1 Star out of 5