Movie News & Reviews

'Hereafter' doesn't tackle death hard enough

If you really want to get rich, I suggest killing yourself.

Wait, put down that bottle of poison. I mean kill yourself, but in away where you come back to life at the end. No one really knows whatthe afterlife's like, right? You could sell your story for millions.Or bring back and market whatever it is that makes Heaven so heavenly.(Sandwich trees, probably. That or some of that tasty immortality.)Alternately, you could skip the whole temporary suicide thing and justmake a bunch of stuff up, but I doubt anyone's ever made any moneydeceiving people.

Another point in favor of going there for real: you could finallyfigure out which movies got it right (my money's onFlatliners). And there's nothing more important than wieldingthe room's best-informed opinion on pop culture. So I say to you, in atone that clearly implies any dissent will be met with suchhot-blooded scorn you will immediately falter to the floor like afalling leaf, that the afterlife piece Hereafter is the sort ofmovie that may earn a Best Picture nomination it wouldn't deserve.

Three people have connections to death: Matt Damon, a psychic who canspeak to the deceased. Cecile De France, a reporter who has visions ofthe afterlife after nearly drowning in a tsunami. And a boy namedMarcus (played by Frankie and George McLaren), whose twin dies in acar accident, leaving him alone.

Each struggles to come to terms with experience -- but it's a thing fewothers understand, and as their searches go on, they becomeincreasingly isolated.

Not the snappiest of plot summaries. Perhaps I suck right now. Thenagain, perhaps you suck and you're just not getting it. Wait,I'm sorry, Internet. I didn't sleep that well last night. Let's forgetwhat I just said and agree this is all director Clint Eastwood'sfault.

Well, and writer Peter Morgan, who steadfastly refuses to giveHereafter a simplistic or conventional plot. That winds up botha weakness and a strength. It's nice that it unfolds like real life,messy and unpredictable -- in your average ghost-whispering movie, Damonwould end up the unwitting linchpin of a scheme by aliens/God/aliensmasquerading as God to save humanity from a horde of angry deadgathering deep under Earth's crust -- but I'm also, in general, a fan ofthings happening.

Things don't do much happening in Hereafter. Not of the kindthat adds up to much narrative propulsion, anyway, especially whenyou're cutting between three separate story lines of internalized griefand loneliness that only begin to cohere in the final few minutes.Sure, you've got some thematic connections tying these three peopletogether, but when your field's as broad as "death," there's more thana little shouting distance between their individual journeys.

Which is probably part of the point. It's just not a very finely-honed one.

Eastwood and Morgan do get fat props, however, for avoiding any hintof Crazy Coincidence Theatre. When Damon and De France meet, it's notbecause he dreamed his dead dog barking her name and address across anovercast sky where the clouds formed her face. It's accidental andnatural, built to by careful and detailed writing. Meanwhile, Eastwoodclasses up the joint with some great lighting and a light touch tosome heavy themes.

Maybe too light. While the emotional journeys of Damon and thetwins are compelling, Hereafter doesn't tackle death and theafterlife hard enough to risk being great or ridiculous. The result: awell-made film that somehow manages to be neither consistentlyentertaining nor especially meaningful.

Grade: C+

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