October 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Tom Long Film Review: 'Hereafter' -- GRADE: B-

Review: 'Hereafter' offers a perhaps too-serious look at the life after death

Tom Long reviews
Tom Long reviews "Hereafter": Director Clint Eastwood takes a serious look at what happens after death.

Thoughtful, slow, deliberate, sincere — these aren't attributes usually associated with films about the supernatural.

But then again, Clint Eastwood isn't considered a master of spook films, either.

And yet "Hereafter" is indeed Eastwood's meditation on the possibility of life — or something — after death. Those expecting a pre-Halloween scare show, though, will be sorely disappointed. There's not a vampire in sight, thankfully.

Working from a script by British prestige screenwriter Peter Morgan ("The Queen," "Frost/Nixon"), Eastwood approaches his subject matter with a careful sobriety that's rarely (never?) seen in mainstream films, leaving all sensationalism behind while dealing with that most final and universal fact of life: death.

The result is an oddity, no getting around it, a film that's more curious than emotional, more interesting than gripping, and yet still somewhat effective. Now 80, Eastwood obviously has personal reason to be interested here, but don't we all?

The movie follows — perhaps a bit too rigidly — three storylines.

In the first, a famous French TV journalist named Marie LeLay (Cecile De France, luminous even while perpetually somber) barely survives a tsunami in Southeast Asia, coming so close to death she feels she grasps its essence, and that essence is not a great void. Upon returning home she's distracted from work and eventually begins writing a book called "The Hereafter."

At the same time, the film tracks a young British boy, Marcus (played with great composure by twins Frankie and George McLaren), whose twin brother has died in an accident. Marcus begins searching, via computer and excursions about London, for information on the afterlife, hoping to reconnect with his other half.

And then there's George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a psychic with the ability to connect with the dead just by touching the hands of their living survivors. This apparent gift has been more of a curse for Lonegan and he's trying to hide it away while working a factory job in San Francisco.

Eastwood and Morgan skillfully and slowly unveil each character's struggles and then send them on their way to inevitable encounters with one another.

The idea of organized religion is brusquely discounted in the film as Marcus watches a series of eye-rolling videos that offer pie-in-the-sky hope, and the hucksterism behind much supernatural twaddle is dismissed as well as he tries various mediums.

But at the same time, Marie discovers "the science" behind afterlife studies (this science remains quite vague) when she visits an elite hospice run by a skeptic doctor (Marthe Keller) turned believer in … something.

The nature of this something is purposely kept nebulous. Eastwood is not revealing the secrets of the universe here; he's just dabbling in its mysteries, a far safer approach.

And yet the universe of "Hereafter" is somewhat cold, lacking in both humor and raw emotion.

The only time either appears is through Damon's character, most effectively when he tries to strike up a relationship with a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard, powerful and appealing) that crumbles when she asks him to use his "gift" on her.

It's a wrenching moment in a film that, despite its intense subject matter and fine execution, comes off a bit too cool for its own good. Eastwood may have found life after death, but he forgot too much of the heart in life.

tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Marie (Cecile De France), a French journalist, has a near-death experience that shakes her reality. American George (Matt Damon) has a special connection to the afterlife.