Director Clint Eastwood doesn’t waste a single bullet in the production of Hereafter. In fact, bullets aren’t even a part of the script. But that doesn’t mean people don’t die or leave others behind to deal with the aftereffect of their demise. Death, when depicted in this film’s natural disaster, an accident and supposed terrorist attack, is often sudden and startlingly realistic. But in comparison to those brief intense scenes, the rest of the storyline ambles along at an unhurried pace introducing the movie’s main characters. Though they live in different parts of the world, we know they will eventually find one another—even if we haven’t seen the trailer. Yet it takes most of the movie to make that happen.
On the San Francisco docks, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) works in a sugar factory. After hours, his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) badgers him to reopen an office and cash in on his gift as a psychic. Billy even goes so far as to show up at George’s apartment with the occasional client (Richard Kind). However George recognizes that knowing everything about a person weighs heavily on him and hampers the ability to build a long-term relationship. (Still, George is not opposed to trying to do so with his cooking class partner played Bryce Dallas Howard.)
Meanwhile Marie LeLay (Cécile De France), a French journalist, deals with the posttraumatic symptoms of being caught in the crushing waves of a tsunami while on vacation at an idyllic tropical resort. Her experience with seeing shadows of the afterlife has left her grasping for a deeper understanding about what happens when a person passes.
Finally, a young London schoolboy (Frankie and George McLaren) searches for consolation after the death of a close family member. But his succession of visits to psychics, who use mirror gazing, high frequency microphones and other measures to contact the dead, leaves him disillusioned and often unresponsive to the compassionate gestures of living people around him.
In the final minutes of the film, Eastwood manages to bring the trio together through a series of coincidences that even feel somewhat believable. Yet it appears to be all for naught. After building up some strong sexual tension in a kitchen scene and coaxing out convincing, emotional performances from many of his actors, Eastwood doesn’t seem to capitalize on what could have been a powerful climatic conclusion to the story.
While many of his other productions (among them Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, and Gran Torino) have given audiences plenty of opportunity to debate his characters’ actions, this script fails to justify the instant connection between individuals or the film’s seemingly abrupt ending. Still the possibility of life after death is an idea that will likely spark discussion among viewers once again. And with only a single strong sexual expletive and a handful of other profanities, the death scenes offer the most concerns for parents who may be considering an outing with their older teens to see this ammunition-free movie.