Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Kimball's Peak Three, Tinseltown
Here's a handy tip for any aspiring screenwriter out there: Let's say you have three or four half-baked story ideas and can't figure out how to develop any one of them into a feature-length narrative. Why not just combine them into a single script, and make everything seem more deep and profound than it really is?
I'm not saying that's what was on Peter Morgan's mind as he crafted the screenplay for Hereafter, but the cynic in me can't help but wonder. After all, you couldn't blame an experienced screenwriter like Morgan — already an Oscar nominee for The Queen and Frost/Nixon — if he noticed the predominant critical reaction to movies like Crash and Babel, which threw a bunch of characters together, tacked on some sort of "isn't it fascinating how interconnected we all are" material, then waited for the hosannas to rain down. Hereafter's three mostly parallel narrative strands are fairly uninvolving individually; twisted together into something that grasps at profundity, they just feel desperate.
In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) tries to find a normal life after abandoning the psychic abilities that once made him a minor celebrity. (He can connect to a person's dead loved ones with just a touch of the hand.) Meanwhile, French TV journalist Marie LeLay (Cécile de France) finds her existence turned upside down after a near-death experience during a tsunami leaves her with visions of the afterlife. And in London, a young boy named Marcus (Frankie & George McLaren) is left adrift after his twin brother Jason dies during a traffic accident.
Hereafter grabs the audience with the natural disaster that changes Marie's life — a CGI-manufactured set piece that provides a surprising visceral punch — as well as with the events that leave young Jason dead. But shortly thereafter, the film settles into the melancholy mood that is director Clint Eastwood's default setting of late. The Eastwood-composed piano and/or guitar music plays, cinematographer Tom Stern provides shadowy compositions, and people stare forlornly into the distance — predictable for late-model Eastwood, though appropriate for a movie about grief and people confronting the question of what happens after death.
But Morgan, it turns out, doesn't have anything interesting to say about either subject. Marie becomes obsessed enough with her visions that she visits a doctor who provides "scientific evidence" of near-death experiences; Marcus tries to investigate religious and New Age-y teachings about the afterlife; George attempts to start a relationship with a woman he meets in a cooking class. The plotting moves these people along, but Morgan never takes enough time to really confront the tangled feelings of people struggling to reconcile what they've previously thought to be true with what they want to be true. Like virtually every film that addresses the world beyond, it simply regurgitates a bland pudding of comforting nondenominational platitudes.
For a movie about life and death, Hereafter almost never finds its main characters appearing angry, or scared, or engaged in any meaningful way with what's happening to them. Marie responds to suspicions of her lover's infidelity with the same vague disappointment that Marcus shows when a variety of fraudulent "sensitives" offer no insight into Jason's fate. Hereafter is a movie that tells us nothing, and does so in a generally tedious way. But hey, isn't it fascinating how interconnected we all are?
I read an early draft of Ghostland in 2014 that was written by Jon Orr…