Silver Screen: Hereafter *
A weighty subject gets the intellectual-lightweight treatment in Hereafter, a competently made but borderline unwatchable movie from Clint Eastwood. You've got to admire the old dog for trying some new tricks, but he and massively overrated screenwriter Peter Morgan fail in nearly every way to create an elaborate post-globalization drama à la Alejandro Gonzá lez Iñ á rritu. In fairness, Iñ á rritu himself only pulls it off about half the time, but aside from some easy and ultimately rather meaningless observations about the increasing level of interconnectedness on the globe, the only thing Eastwood manages to capture of the Iñ á rritu formula is the bloated running time and grim self-seriousness. The result is a kind of dour punishment that seems to suit Eastwood's Catholic sensibilities; if he wants to flagellate himself, fine, but leave us out of it, Clint.
The narrative is split three ways, between an American psychic (Matt Damon), a French journalist (Cé cile De France), and a British foster child (identical twins Frankie and George McLaren).
Damon's psychic, George, is a familiar character. He's basically Good Will Prognosticating: an emotionally troubled, gifted man who chooses instead to work a blue-collar job for fear of what his talents might do to his life. His ability in this case isn't to do math and riff with Robin Williams, but rather to communicate with the dead. His smarmy brother (the smarmy Jay Mohr) wants him to reap financial rewards from the readings, but George rejects this in favor of a quiet life.
The journalist, Marie LeLay, is a political crusader whose priorities change when she's caught up in a computer-generated special-effects tsunami and has a near-death experience. Back in France, she can't focus on battling corrupt politicians because she's haunted by a vision of shadowy figures moving about in a blinding white light. She wants to turn her journalistic abilities on this metaphysical examination, but her producers fear it will destroy her credibility.
Our Dickensian foster kid, Marcus, is orphaned after his twin brother is killed in a car accident and his heroin-addict mother ships him off. He becomes obsessed with finding a way to communicate with his dead brother, but finds no solace from a series of hucksters and new-age gurus.
Gee, I wonder how all these stories will intersect?
That Hereafter is airless and dull for nearly the entirety of its two-hour-twenty-minute running time is likely its most glaring flaw. Like so many recent Eastwood movies, it's just somber people walking around being somber, as though misery is inherently profound.
Hereafter is only slightly more enjoyable when it attempts to impart some insight about the nature of the afterlife and our attitudes toward it, only because the ridiculous is always at least a bit entertaining. Death is represented by the most generic image conceivable, one that looks a lot like Patrick Stewart using the mutant-finding machine in X-Men. It's a kind of pan-religious nod toward Heaven that's so watered down it doesn't even seem like a fun place to go (maybe Hell would at least have a niftier visual aesthetic). Even more absurd is LeLay's battle against what she deems to be a conspiracy among scientists to suppress knowledge of the afterlife-- because if there was a clinical awareness of the great beyond, of course everyone would rush to hide that fact. Probably to make money and concoct more schemes about global warming, I guess. Skeptics are presented as either duplicitous or dogmatically ignorant, and anyone who simply decides to believe in something easy and comforting is rewarded for their choice.
Watching the film does arouse a bit of sympathy with the characters; after two-plus hours of this tripe, you're pretty eager to head out of the darkness and toward the bright light near the exit.