The great philosopher Woody Allen once said, ”I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” For his foresight in travel planning, Allen deserves a discount from George (Matt Damon), a reluctant psychic in the cloudy and tremulous life-after-death drama Hereafter. Much to his own dismay, George is the real thing: He can connect with residents of the beyond simply by touching the hands of those who come to him pining for messages from loved ones no longer on this earth. And Damon — reunited with director Clint Eastwood following their work on Invictus — makes a sincere, low-key medium, conveying information like a reporter rather than a precious mystic. Anyway, George hates the gig. ”It’s not a gift. It’s a curse,” he says. This is why, desperate to be ”normal,” the tormented fellow takes a blue-collar factory job in San Francisco.
As written with uncharacteristic credulity by The Queen‘s Peter Morgan and directed with an uncharacteristic lack of a center — not to mention an uncharacteristic attempt to visualize the spirit world — by Eastwood, Hereafter positions George as one of a triangle of players destined to meet in the end. More than meet, really: The fates of these three are tied with an all-too-neat ribbon, Babel-style. Life beyond death also obsesses Marie (Belgian-born Euro star Cécile de France, whose whipped curls are bound for an afterlife as a beauty-salon reference photo). She’s a Paris-based French journalist who, at the movie’s outset, nearly drowns in an Indonesian tsunami and glimpses the hereafter under water. (Eastwood and company stage an elaborate, extended, terrifying tsunami sequence with countless dead, just so the lady can live!) Meanwhile, over in London, Marcus, a shy and quiet, solemn-faced boy, craves guidance from his stronger, chattier, protective identical-twin brother, Jason, who is, alas, dead — hit by a car. (George and Frankie McLaren play both twins.)
Hereafter is embroidered with various small, specific, stand-alone scenes that zoom in on one or another member of this melancholy trio: George is soothed by listening to audio recordings of Charles Dickens novels. Marie loses her competitive edge at work. Marcus, with the eyes of an Edward Gorey waif, makes a series of lugubrious visits to unhelpful charlatans before he Googles his way to George. But these episodes — especially a brief relationship between George and a flirty young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) — don’t so much accrue to a deeper understanding as pile up like a stack of sketches. (Or a travel diary: The logistics for the production must have been epic, with further stops in the French Alps and Hawaii, which stands in for Indonesia.) And the signature Eastwoodian music that the director lays over the proceedings — piano tinkle, guitar pluck, and an echo of Rachmaninoff out of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter — can’t hold the assemblage together.
George, Marie, and Marcus have mortality on their minds. But Hereafter doesn’t make a convincing case that they needed to meet in the here-and-now. B-