Review: Hereafter

DVD review
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jay Mohr, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard
Release date Out now

After surviving the 2004 tsunami, Parisian journalist Marie LeLay (De France) becomes more interested in the afterlife than her career. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, construction worker George Lonegan (Damon) attempts to hide the fact he has the power to speak to the dead – but people seem to have a way of finding out. And in London, a young boy desperately searches for ways to speak to his dead brother…

As director, it is rare that Clint Eastwood puts a foot wrong. Indeed, the last few years have seen the one-time Man With No Name churn out a string of modern classics, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Changeling and Gran Torino (let’s forget about Space Cowboys for the moment). Hereafter, though, is Clint’s weakest effort since 1990’s god-awful buddy-buddy thriller The Rookie. It is also his most atypical: a world-spanning, supernatural drama consisting of three overlapping narrative strands.

You wonder whether this tale of death and spirituality is the 80-year-old filmmaker wrestling with ideas of his own mortality; or perhaps it was just the chance to work with Peter Morgan, the award-winning screenwriter behind The Queen and Frost/Nixon, that attracted him to the project. Whatever the reason, Hereafter is, sadly, a mess – an ambitious mess, but a mess all the same.

The narrative device of using thematically-linked stories is fairly popular these days, and it’s been used effectively in such state-of-the-world pictures as Traffic, Babel and Crash. Here, though, the individual stories are too thin to work effectively, and the inevitable plot intersection – at the London Book Fair no less – is clumsily shoehorned in.

Unexpectedly, Hereafter opens like a Roland Emmerich disaster flick, as a tsunami sweeps through a beach town. It’s difficult to fathom why the film picked up a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination considering how unconvincing the sequence looks (not helped by the fact some of the extras don’t appear to react as waves bear down on them). The remainder of this plot thread tells the cold, plodding story of a journalist junking her investigative work to embrace spirituality. Despite Cécile De France’s best efforts, it’s tedious, self-indulgent waffle.

The second, London-based narrative thread is even worse. As the cruelly separated twins, Frankie and George McLaren look the part, but there’s no disguising the fact their performances are amateurish and unconvincing. But then nothing else about this storyline feels convincing either – the exploration of Britain’s social issues (poverty, gangs, alcoholism, foster care) pales in comparison to the work of filmmakers like Shane Meadows or Andrea Arnold, and Eastwood fails to indicate the passage of time very well (a year seems to skip by in a matter of minutes!). In the movie’s nadir, a London Tube bombing is thrown in to edge forward a minor plot point, before being quickly glossed over. It’s an astonishingly misjudged moment.

The movie is saved from total disaster status by the third narrative strand, centring on Matt Damon’s gloomy medium. Sure, there’s not much here that we haven’t seen in Ghost Whisperer or Afterlife, and the character’s over-emphasised obsession with Dickens is silly (he doesn’t even seem to know that much about the author, failing to correct a tour guide’s description of Dickens’ unfinished novel as The Mystery of “Edward” Drood). But Damon is warm and winning as the man whose “gift” is ruining his life, and his night-class scenes with Bryce Dallas-Howard’s unlucky-in-love Melanie in particular are touching and gently funny. You get the impression this strand could have been expanded into an enjoyable standalone drama, but it’s been over-complicated and watered down by the other stories.

A “spiritual picture” is a hard sell to an international audience at the best of times, but it’s not the themes that make Hereafter such a hard slog – it’s the unsure plotting, craw-sticking sentiment and bad acting. The pairing of Eastwood and Morgan should have made for a drama dream team; instead they’ve fashioned a puzzling mess. Perhaps supernatural drama just isn’t their forte. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 4/10
A mystifying mix of disaster movie, Fish Tank and Ghost Whisperer. At least on DVD you can fast-forward to the San Fran scenes.

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