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Hereafter

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Hereafter
Clint Eastwood is the essence of serenity behind the camera, as much as he was in front of it. His great skill is unearthing precious moments of grace from highly emotional circumstances, and stories don't come much more emotional than Hereafter. Matt Damon plays one of three people whose lives are touched by death and the question of an afterlife. It's fertile ground for human drama. Still, in this case, the more Eastwood digs, the less certain he seems of what he is looking for. It's an unsettling watch for that reason and because it also taps a primal nerve.

The director opens with an unblinking and frankly breathtaking reconstruction of the tsunami that devastated Indonesia in 2004. He zeroes in on Marie (Cecile De France), a French television reporter who is literally swept away by the deluge and has an out-of-body experience before spluttering back to life. A few thousand miles away in San Francisco, George (Matt Damon) reluctantly performs a psychic reading. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr) is adamant that he shouldn't waste his "gift", but it's clear that George has spent so much time communing with spirits, he is losing himself.

The third strand unfolds on a sinkhole estate in London where a young boy, Marcus, sees his twin killed in a road accident (both boys played by doe-eyed newcomers George and Frankie McLaren). Again, Eastwood has a frank approach that makes the scene agonising to watch, but the events leading up to it are just as tense. The boys are forced to lean on each other while mum uses a whiskey bottle for a crutch. It's a familiar set-up, but worth noting for Lyndsey Marshal (from TV's Being Human) as the faltering alcoholic. She could so easily have been the object of disdain, but instead she tugs the heartstrings with her obvious (yet useless) love for her kids.

Being the consummate actor's director, Eastwood is tuned in to the vital nuances, whether it's George chewing mindlessly on his dinner, alone (again), or Marie drifting during a TV interview. Damon's turn becomes less interesting though as he veers perilously close to Rain Man territory. And the pulse of the story, as a whole, begins to weaken. No sooner are we wondering whether George will kiss the girl in his cookery class (a suitably angelic Bryce Dallas Howard) than we're flitting away to see if Marcus will cope in foster care, or Marie will dump her producer boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic) and investigate the ultimate taboo, which he has asked her to forget.

The episodes feel too long, not because Eastwood is indulging his actors, but because these characters are scrabbling around in the dark without clear intention. If Eastwood (and celebrated scribe Peter Morgan) only aim to convey the bewilderment we must all feel when confronted with our own mortality, they have done that. But if they also strive to add something more about our duty to each other here, in the mortal world, this is where the film falls short. Eventually, the lives of the three characters intertwine, but there is no inevitability about this moment (except that it's a cliché) to make it feel genuinely fated or profound. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just don't expect any grand revelations before the curtain falls.


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