By Jonathan Kiefer
It’s strange to think that the famously adamantine Clint Eastwood would be so easy to brush off nowadays but, somehow, his movies have become overwhelmingly wishy-washy.
It’s fitting, then, that a tsunami should be the inciting action of Eastwood’s Hereafter, a blundering and archly Babel-esque melodrama about three people from different countries who eventually find connection through mortality. The flood not only provokes the plot-propelling near-death of one character, the French journalist played by Cécile De France, but it also establishes the movie’s overall comportment by leaving everything sodden and blasted. Maybe we should be thankful that Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan had enough restraint not to show us whatever faraway butterfly wing-flutter brought on the tsunami in the first place.
Instead, they give us the journalist trying to cope by buttressing a memoir of her calamity with reportage on a religious conspiracy (maybe the book will sell in America, she’s told). Plus we get a grieving English schoolboy (George McLaren) who cycles through YouTube clips in search of an afterlife-attuned psychic he can trust. That would be, you guessed it, Matt Damon as the noble burden-bearer George, a sad-sack clairvoyant who lives alone in the shadows of a glum San Francisco walk-up and dodges the invasive ESP jolts that rattle his soul whenever he touches people and summons their departed, demanding loved ones. As the movie goes through its tedious motions with the other characters—and with getting them all together—it seems mostly to want to be about the call of George’s duty.
Fair enough: Damon has been popping corn like this at least since Good Will Hunting.
Here, he passes his days punching a clock at some obscure out-of-town factory. His brother, a puffy and affable Jay Mohr, urges re-merchandising that post-life perception as the family business it once was—before George burned out and tritely declared it not a blessing but a curse: “It ruins any chance I have at a normal life,” he says. “I feel like a freak.”
Indeed, like some sullen, adolescent X-Men mutant or Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, George must always wear gloves or avoid physical contact altogether. He must endure the embarrassing contrivance of a cooking-class courtship with a pretty and peculiarly desperate woman (Bryce Dallas Howard), who throws herself at him and then is repelled by the harrowing revelation his supernatural insight allows. He must subdue his conscience and shut his door in the faces of the needy.
Again for reasons of plot propulsion, George is a Dickens fan, and there is something stirring in the radiant humility with which he finds himself (along with the journalist and the schoolboy) at the London Book Fair, seeking an autograph from book-on-tape maestro Derek Jacobi. It’s more or less the same righteous swoon—the accepted privilege to stand among great historical figures as filtered through great actors—that Damon sparked with Morgan Freeman’s Nelson Mandela in the previous Eastwood film, Invictus.
Might Hereafter really just be a parable of the lonely, curiously afflicted life of the aging and ever-virtuous movie star?