As various people around the world deal with death, one man finds he cannot escape messages from the afterlife in Hereafter, a downbeat blob of drama starring Matt Damon.
Marie LeLay (Cecile De France), a popular TV journalist vacationing with her lover/boss at some, I’m guessing, Indian Ocean-front beach, nearly drowns when she is swept up in the tsunami. In the moments between when she is knocked unconscious and when she is revived she sees — something. Some glimpse of what lies beyond life.
Meanwhile, in the UK, pre-teen twins Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie McLaren and George McLaren) are constantly covering for their drug-addict mother. The boys are used to looking after each other — and to some extent, Marcus, who is 12 minutes younger, is used to being looked after by Jason. He is, therefore, particularly bereft when he suddenly finds himself without his brother.
As these two characters, Marie and Marcus, muddle through issues of life and death, over in America, George (Matt Damon) is trying very hard to ignore such things. George was a medium, we learn. He left it all behind — along with the possibility of a significant amount of money — because it became too much for him. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr), who sees only dollar signs when he looks at his brother, tries to persuade him to go back to it. But George — who gets messages from the dead whenever he touches someone — wants to try to have a normal life, maybe even a normal relationship.
That urging is how the movie drags us to the world’s saddest Italian cooking class, where George meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), the dumbest girl to ever girl her way through a movie. We see people who figured out about George’s past more or less stalk him to try to talk to dead loved ones. I hoped that Melanie was one of those, that her dumb-girl-ness wasn’t just a result of some hamfisted character creation. But Melanie does, basically, end up to be just weak writing and she is one of the most obvious examples of a kind of half-assness that pervades the movie.
For a movie about the afterlife, Hereafter has nothing interesting to say about it, other than to tell us with absolute certainty that it exists. I think one or the other would have worked — heaven is all rainbows and whoopie pies or who knows what it is or if it is. Or if the movie had some more engaging way of saying “there is an afterlife but it is unknowable,” perhaps that might have worked. The movie doesn’t do anything to get us on board with the afterlife idea but it also doesn’t leave anything vague. So when, for example, Marie decides she wants to investigate the afterlife, it just seems silly, and we aren’t seeing the situation from her point of view. Or maybe we’re not supposed to see her point of view and we’re supposed to be skeptical — except the movie isn’t skeptical. The movie shows us blurry renderings of the afterlife. Pick a side.
Except, heavy sigh, maybe not picking a side is the point. The movie gets bogged down in this mushiness and as it sinks it gives us the saddest, grayest people to watch. Damon could have easily been asleep during some of these scenes. That is, until the strangest most obtrusive score outside a B-grade horror movie comes skipping through to wake him up. Does all the music scoring scenes in France have to sound like something out of a Pepe Le Pew cartoon?
Hereafter drifts around, like, oh, a plastic bag caught in the wind or something equally filled with ordinary beauty. It gets stuck on a branch here, it looks like it’s dancing there. It doesn’t move with purpose — it moves slowly, wistfully. Or at least, you can argue that it does all of these things. I get that Hereafter is, you know, Doing Something. I just have no desire to figure out what it’s doing. C-
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images and brief strong language. Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Peter Morgan, Hereafter is two hours and six minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.