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Movie Review: Hereafter

'Hereafter' leaves us in limbo
Genre: Thriller
Running Time: 129 min
Release Date: 2010-10-15
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

It’s sobering to think folks under 25 never knew Clint Eastwood as a director of complicated morality tales, from “The Outlaw Josey Wales” in 1976 to the unforgettable “Unforgiven” in 1992.

The newest generation of young adults knows him only as a director of simplistic, reassuring bedtime stories, some of which end sadly for a central character but all of which reaffirm the goodness of psychologically lost and crippled people. “Hereafter” won’t change their view.

For the first time, Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan (who did crisper, smarter scripts for “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon”) venture into quasi-religious territory. This drama focuses on three characters anxious to escape, explore or establish contact with the dead. Those three are never developed as individuals; instead, they plod toward a destined meeting like characters in a puppet show.

Marie (Cécile De France), a Parisian talk show host, survives a tsunami after spending a few moments among the deceased. (Her extraordinary stunt double in that scene, the most gripping moment in the film, is the late April Stirton. She was born in Waxhaw and went on to become a three-sport athlete at Parkwood High School in Monroe.)

Somber George (Matt Damon) has quit an apparently lucrative job as a genuine psychic to work in a California factory. Little Marcus (played by stiff twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren) is a Londoner whose twin has been killed in an accident; bereft of hope, he seeks comfort from spurious mediums.

A more interesting movie might have been made about any of them. Take George, who learns others’ secrets the moment he touches them – a fate so horrible he now avoids all physical contact. What might it be like to go through life without intimacy of any kind, sex included? What terrors or madness might self-imposed solitude induce?

Morgan and Eastwood aim for nothing so ambitious. Instead, they craft a vague tale of reassurance that says all of us can throw off handicaps on Earth and expect warm, fuzzy bliss in heaven. (Though the movie carefully makes no mention of any kind of God.)

Coincidences and improbabilities aside, the script sometimes borders on the absurd. Marie writes a book called “Hereafter: The Conspiracy of Silence” and argues that “they” (whoever “they” are) have tried to suppress the “truth” about life after death. That’s nonsense, but Eastwood and Morgan don’t even make a stab at telling us just what that truth might be.

De France is captivating in all the moods of the movie’s one mildly complicated character, though even here the writing lets her down: Marie is surprised that her publisher, who paid for a book on politician François Mitterand, is annoyed to get one about the afterlife. (“It would have to be directed at the American market,” he says knowingly.)

Damon, trapped in an inert character, shows little inner turmoil. The supporting cast, headed by Marthe Keller as a Swiss researcher probing supernatural matters, fills many small roles with authority.

Perhaps Keller’s character speaks for Morgan and/or Eastwood when she says she was once skeptical but now has unshakable belief that we’ll meet loved ones in the Great Beyond. (Tellingly, the biggest jerk in the film is the character who flatly denies the possibility of a heaven.)

Eastwood may think a lot about his own death these days, as any 80-year-old is likely to do. He seems in “Hereafter” like a man determined to convince himself joy awaits those who shuffle off this mortal coil. On the evidence of this wishy-washy film, he hasn’t quite talked himself into that belief yet.

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10/21/2010 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

Movie’s muddled metaphysics yield neither clear answers nor even clear questions about life beyond Earth.

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