Photograph: Ken Regan
Hereafter: Clint's stab at the afterlife is more superficial than supernatural
Even a tsunami struggles to give momentum to Clint Eastwood's modest meditation on the impact of death.
Clint Eastwood tackles our connections to the afterlife but doesn't appear to have much to say about it in Hereafter. It's also misleading that this is being marketed as a supernatural chiller: there are few thrills in Eastwood's essentially modest meditation on the impact of death on the lives of three very different people. What jolts there are come mostly in a terrifying opening stretch that sees French television news anchor Marie (Cécile De France) holidaying in south-east Asia with her boss/lover, swept up in a tsunami and enduring a near-death experience that irrevocably changes her. You can argue about its tastefulness in seeming to mimic real, remembered footage of the 2004 tragedy (a London tube bombing follows later as well), but the tsunami sequence is a resounding tour de force.
From that special-effects cloudburst, however, Hereafter immediately settles into a globe-spanning but low-key exploration of loss and heartache. Marie's story picks up in Paris as she struggles to process her experiences in a high-powered media environment; in London, inseparable twins (Frankie and George McLaren) help their mother to conceal her drug addiction to avoid being whisked away by social services, before the older brother dies in a road accident; and in San Francisco, Matt Damon's outwardly ordinary psychic toils in a factory to evade his “curse”, while his avaricious brother (Jay Mohr) pressures him back into the business of reconnecting the living with their dead relatives.
With his recent track record (The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Frost/Nixon), there is an expectation that Peter Morgan's screenplay will serve up some tasty dramatic fireworks. But while Hereafter contains moments of intrigue and engaging scenes (Damon's culinary flirtations with Bryce Dallas Howard in an Italian cooking class are a highlight), Morgan's choice to split his metaphysical ruminations into three separate stories doesn't generate sufficient momentum to justify the end result. The London section, in which the surviving twin encounters a parade of spirit-world charlatans, lies particularly exposed, more so because Eastwood eschews clever editing in favour of sticking with each segment for prolonged bursts.
As the characters' destinies dovetail together feebly at a London book fair, the prevailing feeling that Hereafter leaves is that it is more facile than profound, and fails to do justice to either its writer or director's skills as potent, intelligent storytellers.