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There’s no escaping it. We’re all going to die someday. While some would rather not talk about it, I find a healthy discussion cathartic. I like dissecting the possibilities of the afterlife with open minded individuals because nobody knows what awaits us after death. Maybe religion is right and there’s a god waiting to embrace us. Maybe nothing happens and our lives are simply over. Or maybe what happens lies somewhere in between. Because of this fascination, I love movies that explore life and death and I was hoping Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter would give me something new to think about, but sadly, it goes nowhere. Death and the afterlife are not explored, but rather are merely there in what is essentially another generic, bland, overly sentimental drama.

The movie follows three stories simultaneously. In America, George (Matt Damon) is attempting to cope with a gift he doesn’t want. Due to a surgical procedure on his brain as a child, he now has the ability to touch another human being and see their loved ones. He has become a psychic and communicator for the dead, though he has now given up the lifestyle and is trying to live normally. Across the pond, Marie (Cecile De France) has just lived through a tsunami, or rather died in it before being brought back to life. She experienced death and is beginning to write a book on what she saw. Elsewhere, a young boy named Marcus loses his twin brother Jason (both played at various points by Frankie and George McLaren) in an accident and decides he can’t live without him, so he seeks out information on death and the afterlife.

There is potential in Hereafter. Clint Eastwood is a fantastic director, despite what naysayers may proclaim. He doesn’t do anything too fancy with the camera, but it’s this simplicity that makes him so great. He never draws attention to himself when behind the scenes and he lets his actors bring out the story, which they all do wonderfully. The problem is that the story is insignificant.

Hereafter is a movie that wants to be something more than it is. It wants to say something meaningful about its subject matter, but it never goes the distance to accomplish that goal. A few bullet points are hit here and there, like the idea that religion is used as a comfort for those who fear death, but they never fully come together. Cohesion is not one of the film’s strong suits. Each time something is brought up, it stands alone like a blip on a radar screen.

This problem isn’t limited solely to the themes, however. The many different side stories that exist within the already-too-many main stories don’t feel completely finished. One such subplot shows George as he begins to make a connection with a girl he meets at a late night cuisine course. As prevalent as this is in the first half of the movie, it isn’t properly concluded. After she learns of his gift, she disappears and is never seen or heard from again.

The rest of George’s story is met with contrivances. At one point, he decides to leave the states to escape what his brother calls his “duty” as a psychic to perform readings. So he travels to the home of his favorite author, Charles Dickens, which leads him to a book convention where the other two characters just happen to be mingling, converging all of their stories in the least realistic way possible.

Although I have other issues with the film, like bad CGI and an excessively cheesy ending in the vein of Eastwood’s last film, Invictus, there’s nothing truly objectionable in Hereafter. It does no harm, but it fails to impress and it will likely fade away just as quickly as it appeared. For another filmmaker, this may be passable, but given the legacy of the great Clint Eastwood, this is a real disappointment.

Hereafter receives 2/5

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