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Hereafter

A Sleeper in SF

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Take M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 Oscar-nominated, commercially successful supernatural thriller, The Sixth Sense, subtract the ghosts, suspense, and tension, add three converging storylines, and the result would look and sound like Clint Eastwood’s latest effort, Hereafter.

The banal, bland, sentimental supernatural drama is written by Academy Award-nominated Peter Morgan ( Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) at his least inspired and his most timid.

Hereafter opens moments before a tsunami hits an unnamed South Asian country, killing tens of thousands. A French television journalist/celebrity, Marie LeLay (Cécile De France), swept up in the tsunami loses consciousness for several minutes. While locals desperately attempt to revive her, initially without success, Marie has an over-familiar vision of the afterlife: a white light, silhouetted figures, and random blurring effects (to give it that analog feeling) before she’s revived.

Marie finds it difficult to return to her former life. Back in Paris, her lover and producer, Didier (Thierry Neuvic), who survived the tsunami unscratched, suggests she take time off to write a book, not on her vision of the afterlife but on former French president Francois Mitterrand.

In London, England, twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie/George McLaren) struggle to keep their mother, Jackie (Lyndsey Marshal), drug- and alcohol-free, without success. A devastating, tragic accident separates Marcus and Jason, leaving Marcus alone. Despite the help of compassionate social workers, and later, when he’s separated from his mother, supportive foster parents, Marcus can’t overcome the loss of Jason. Marcus becomes obsessed with contacting Jason and seeks out psychics, but each time he is disappointed by what and whom he finds.

In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a one-time psychic who can actually communicate with the dead, attempts to live a normal life as a factory worker. His paranormal gifts are, to borrow Morgan’s on-the-nose dialogue prominently featured in the TV ads, “A curse, not a blessing.” George’s older brother, Billy (Jay Mohr), however, only sees upside to Lonegan’s gift, especially the money he’ll make as George’s business manager, but George resists returning to his former life. As part of an adult education cooking class, George meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), but his history of failed romantic relationships due to his psychic gifts suggests any future with Melanie will be short-lived.

After almost two hours of listless, enervating meandering, Marie, Marcus, and George’s storylines converge at a London book fair where the most engaging scene involves a superfluous, if no less welcome, appearance by Derek Jacobi (as himself) reading a passage from one of Charles Dickens’ books to a rapt audience.

Apparently, someone forgot to remind Morgan that a narrative film isn’t a narrative without a third act and a third act isn’t a third act without tension, suspense, conflict, or stakes (emotional or physical) for the central characters. That same someone apparently forgot to mention the deficiencies in Morgan’s screenplay to Eastwood, who shot Morgan’s script unchanged (typical for Eastwood-directed films).

Eastwood’s direction is just as pedantic and pedestrian as Morgan’s script. Unfocused storytelling, flaccid pacing, uninspired performances — including a somnambulant Damon, wasted in a passive, underwritten — confirm what many moviegoers and critics have long suspected about Eastwood as he enters his 80s: He’s content to churn out middlebrow mediocrity after middlebrow mediocrity. That doesn’t mean we have to be content. Let’s just hope that Hereafter will be Eastwood’s first and last foray into supernatural drama.