Hereafter Dir. Clint Eastwood

[Warner Bros.; 2010]

Styles: drama
Others: Babel, Know1ng

If Hereafter should be admired for anything, it might be the scope of its failure; it’s the kind of terrible movie that makes you appreciate the merely mediocre. Sleepless in Seattle climaxed with a ridiculous meet-cute, but at least it was a romantic comedy rather than a purported rumination of death’s effect on the living. Babel tied three mostly unrelated stories together with tenuous kwinky-dinks, but at least they involved dramatic situations. 2012 may have reveled in graphic catastrophe, but at least it didn’t star Jay Mohr.

In plot one, Matt Damon plays George, a lonely psychic who resents how his ability to hear the dead has kept him from being able to touch someone without telling them how daddy’s sorry. In plot two, a junkie’s quiet son Marcus (Frankie McLaren) mourns the sudden death of his twin brother. In plot three, a French TV reporter, Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), can’t stop thinking about her near-death experience in a tsunami long enough to write a book about Francois Mitterrand and loses an endorsement deal. All three (well, at least the first two) could plausibly be made into affecting stories, but instead of giving the characters clear goals, writer Peter Morgan and director Clint Eastwood put them on slow boats to nowhere, watching mournfully as they Google for answers to metaphysical questions and interact with unsympathetic souls who don’t have the specter of death hanging over them, playing sensitive jazz piano as they suffer.

Ironically, there’s not much pondering during this ponderousness. When Marie gets boxes of material about the afterlife from a hospice doctor in Switzerland, we don’t even get a glimpse inside to justify the trip. Meanwhile, George’s desire to ignore his talent is only questioned by the needy and the greedy. When the trio finally meet, there’s no dramatic discovery, just the slow roll-out of pat, obvious resolutions. Hereafter keeps hinting at grand, magical ideas, only to shy away from the implications as if worried of looking silly. Even Know1ng had the courage of its crazy convictions.

Despite sharing most scenes with Bryce Dallas Howard’s manic pixie nightmare girl and the less that is Mohr, Damon doesn’t overplay his reluctant, Dickens-loving angel and survives with his charisma intact — his tenderness with that little bereaved boy almost redeems the movie. With a shrewder script, Eastwood could have made a sweet, sad little movie about this pair helping each other with their ghost issues. Oh, see what just happened there? Hereafter even makes M. Night Shyamalan look good.

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