Hereafter poster - AustraliaAlthough better known for his formidable on-screen presence in the likes of TV’s Rawhide, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and the Dirty Harry series, Clint Eastwood has forged an impressive career behind – as well as in front of – the lens. Since his directorial debut with the 1971 thriller Play Misty For Me, he has helmed many of his own starring vehicles (The Outlaw Josey Wales,  Pale Rider, The Rookie, The Bridges Of Madison County and Space Cowboys among them), including two that garnered Academy Award acting nominations and best director wins (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby). In his later years, his focus has fallen firmly on his work as a filmmaker, with the lauded Mystic River, Flags Of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, Changeling and Invictus illustrative of his output. Supernatural fantasy Hereafter represents his most recent effort, relaying three parallel stories of people touched by death in different ways.

For Marie Lelay (Cécile De France, Sister Smile), her encounter with mortality comes courtesy of the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand, with the French journalist on assignment when the disaster hit. Knocked unconscious by the raging tide, she perceives a shadowy realm of human figures bathed in light, a vision that stays with her after being resuscitated. Factory worker George Lonegan (Matt Damon, True Grit) can’t escape the dead, with a childhood operation bestowing upon him the gift of communicating with those that have passed. Although his brother Billy (Jay Mohr, Street Kings) encourages George to embrace his gift, his inability to connect with the living – as exemplified by cooking school acquaintance Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) – makes acceptance an impossibility. And finally, London twins Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren, in their first film roles) come face to face with death at the tender age of twelve, with a traffic accident breaking their unique bond. Unable to cope alone in foster care, Marcus searches for a way to contact his departed brother, encountering frauds as he contemplates voices from the beyond.

There are at least three movies to be found in Hereafter, and none of them are especially engaging. Using three intersecting stories to deal with the afterlife delivers a less-than-subtle moral message that ‘death affects us all’, sort of like a Crash for the psychic set. Yet while this retains all of the wank of Paul Haggis’ Oscar-winning film, it contains none of the inter-textual skill either. For at least two-thirds of the storyline, one wishes that death would come soon and swiftly. If Damon’s third of the film is essentially the glue that holds the other two stories together, it is more of a Blu-Tack than a well-bonded adhesive. Repeatedly denying his ability becomes tedious, as we know it is only a matter of time before the stories intersect. De France’s chapters are superfluous at best, but may also hasten audience desires to pass over. Despite beginning with a natural disaster of epic proportions, the story drags the film into the doldrums and pads it out unnecessarily by half-an-hour or so. Only Jason and Marcus’ tale emotionally connects with the audience, and at times is quite ‘Mike Leigh’ in its stark depiction of family tragedy. Yet even this piece is overwhelmed by the intense sentimentality of the whole.

Clint, currently shooting his 35th film as director, isn’t getting any younger, and perhaps he was feeling his own mortality when he decided to take on Hereafter. Yet gone is the edge of his previous musings on his own mortality (Gran Torino), or the intimate drama of the surprisingly good Changeling. Eastwood infuses the film with an amazing amount of saccharine schmaltz, especially as we move towards a conclusion that wraps things up a little too neatly for most characters. This is especially surprising from writer Peter Morgan, whose scripts for Frost/Nixon, The Damned United and The Special Relationship so deftly dissected the human drama at the heart of politics. Perhaps he, like the rest of us, is simply struggling to comprehend the bigger picture behind our final destination.

The Reel Bits IconThe Reel Bits: At best, Hereafter is a confused mess, struggling to come to terms with its own mortality. At worst, it simply drags on to the point that you’ll be praying for the afterlife to come sooner.

Hereafter was released on February 10, 2011 in Australia by Warner/Roadshow.