Who are you, and what have you done with Peter Morgan?
The brilliant writer behind the virtually flawless screenplays for Frost/Nixon and The Queen (both of which were nominated for Oscars) is the scribe behind Hereafter, a plodding meditation on eternity, directed by Clint Eastwood.
While much of Morgan’s work (heck, most any writer’s work) steadily builds to a pretty stunning final act, Hereafter is exactly the opposite. It starts big and goes nowhere fast.
Matt Damon stars as George Lonegan, a loner of a man who can converse with a person’s dead relatives just be touching the person’s hands. At the urging of his greedy brother Billy (Jay Mohr, who should really stick to comedy) George went into business as a psychic, but after becoming an emotional wreck because of it, he stopped and took a blue-collar job to take the edge off.
Meanwhile, an ocean away in England, twin boys Jason and Marcus are dealing with their lives as the children of a drug-addicted single mother. After Jason gets killed in an accident, Marcus loses his mother, too, as she’s carted off to rehab. Foster care doesn’t really agree with Marcus, and he whiles away the hours pining for his brother and Googling ways to talk with him in the afterlife.
The third plot line (which rounds out the three-way collision course you’ve no doubt figured out we’re on) involves French TV news anchor Marie (Cécile De France) who dies briefly in what we’re meant to assume is the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After seeing a blurry, white-lighted vision as she was drowning, she comes back to life and instantly becomes fascinated by the subject of near-death experiences. The awesome and stunning images of the tsunami open the movie and lead you to think that maybe we’re in for one heck of a thrill ride (or, at the very least, a moderately exciting adventure).
Alas, it is not meant to be.
Instead, Hereafter is a slow, muddled movie about people talking to each other and never really resolving anything. Marie talks to her director boyfriend. Marcus talks to the ghost of his brother. George tries to talk to his brother. Even when the conversation actually does get interesting, as it does between George and a girl he meets in his weekly cooking class (played by the hypnotic and charming scene-stealer Bryce Dallas Howard), we’re left with no choice but to want more, and we never get it.
In the final act, the three lives finally intertwine, and it’s much more of a letdown than a successful conclusion. I’m all for movies that end rather abruptly and leave you hanging a bit (see Lost in Translation) but Hereafter just fizzles out and leaves you staring at the end credits and saying, “Um. OK.”
For Eastwood’s part, the direction is solid, and he largely just stays out of the way and lets the actors do their thing. Of course you need to have a good script to back that up, though, and here it ends up just being a waste of his considerable talent.
The actors are also wasted but turn in stellar performances nonetheless. Damon hasn’t played a more complex character in recent years, and he does it superbly well. De France is absolutely lovely, and transcends the script to turn in a performance that will surely put her on the map stateside. And newcomers Frankie and George McLaren (who take turns as Marcus and Jason) have quite the little career ahead of them, too.
In the end, the biggest problem is the vast nothingness of Morgan’s screenplay. He may have designed it as a meditation on eternity, but instead it just ends up feeling a bit like an eternity.