“Hereafter” – Matter Of Life And Death No Big Deal

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Let’s say Clint Eastwood phoned a while back and said he wanted to tell you all about this movie, “Hereafter,” he was planning to direct. Be at the pub. Drinks are on him. You spend a swell night listening to his ideas and philosophy, and why he wants to explore whether or not there is a Great Beyond. Lucky you. I would have jumped at the offer.

It’s a pity time constraints probably precluded such a meeting with each and every one of us. Because while Mr. Eastwood’s take on the big question is doubtlessly fascinating, his movie based on a script by Peter Morgan fails to impart the personal feelings he apparently wished to share. Slow and plodding, this is hardly characteristic of his work.

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Filled with long, silent glances, pregnant pauses and symbolic suggestions, “Hereafter” may one day be referred to as Clint’s foreign film. But the thought does little to appease an anxiety caused by wondering just how the filmmaker will eventually weave together three initially disparate tales. Our focus should be on the story, and not the process.

However, more patient sorts, as well as those who’ve become tolerant of slow boat-to-China storytelling thanks to TV crime investigation serials that pad one big divulgence in a lot of ceremonious build-up, might welcome getting hooked. I mean, we do want to find out if there’s an afterlife. That it takes the film a near eternity to tackle that point is ironic.

Still, once you’re engulfed in “Hereafter’s” meandering but ready supply of artistically engaging questions, some solid acting performances can entice you to stay with this pressing puzzle until the big white light comes on, so to speak. And truth be told, even the greatest naysayers don’t mind contemplating alternatives to what they suspect awaits.

Living at the emotional crux of all this speculation is Matt Damon’s George Lonegan, who, until recently, made a good buck as a medium. But being a spiritual intermediary between the living and the dead just wasn’t his cup of tea leaves. Contrary to the gift his profit-minded brother (Jay Mohr) calls it, he decries the talent a life-defining curse.

Meanwhile, half-way around the world, French newscaster Marie LeLay, played by Cécile De France, is having her fate sealed by a tsunami. And in London, the adolescent Marcus, alternately portrayed by Frankie and George McLaren, is dealing with a heartbreaking tragedy of his own. Mr. Eastwood switches among the scenarios at will.

In San Francisco, George has found normalcy, if not happiness, as a forklift operator. O.K., so he does just one reading to help his brother out with a client. Trying to find a life for himself, he takes a cooking class. There, he is partnered with pretty Melanie. But the elephant in the room can’t be concealed. She beseeches. Can a good deed go unpunished?

Given time, we come to care about these nice folks in a soap opera sort of way, and hope that some epiphany, whether divine, occult or scientific, can help ease their mortal woes. Interestingly, if it means anything, all three principals in this very character driven drama are strong-willed and bounteous with the stuff of self-determination. No quitters here.

Each is beset with a psychological, mini version of Job’s challenges…processes they must tunnel through to find the answers they so desperately seek. The specifics are better left unsaid here. But let’s just allow that, when dashed deep underwater by the tsunami, Marie got a glimpse of what just might be “over there.” Or at least she thinks so.

It becomes her personal cause celebre. Marcus, on the other hand, tossed into semi-waif status when London’s social services wrests him from his dope-addicted mom (Lyndsey Marshal), embarks on an adventure of Dickensian proportions to satisfy his quest. Hmm. Earlier we learned that George, still back in Frisco, is an ardent Dickens aficionado.

If you’re still awake by this point, it occurs that Eastwood chose the wrong tack to air his views on life’s biggest mystery. Granted, by its very nature a certain amount of hocus-pocus and gauziness is required if one is to fill up a film of two hours with more than scattered, anecdotal events. But the style just doesn’t look good on straight shootin’ Clint.

Like the subject itself, ‘tis a conundrum. The director would be hard put to choose a methodology that pleased the inquiry’s mystical needs while nonetheless affirming his integrity. Short of Mr. Eastwood actually channeling Harry Houdini, who then peers out at us and confirms there is an afterlife, “Hereafter” remains infinitely inconclusive.

“Hereafter,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Matt Damon, Cécile De France and Frankie and George McLaren. Running time: 129 minutes


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