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Look, I’m as amazed and admiring of the fact that Clint Eastwood is still making movies at age 80. It’s quite an achievement. And not just small movies, but big films with sweeping subjects and serious themes. But let’s face it, even a master can make a misstep.
And what a misstep Eastwood has made with his latest feature, “Hereafter,” which deals with nothing less than what happens to us when we die. Such subject matter can be the springboard for either a thoughtful supernatural thriller or a haunting meditation on our own mortality.

“Hereafter” tries to be both and fails miserably.

The story is told through the experiences of three unrelated characters. George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who has a psychic gift (but, in one of many typical movie clichés the film peddles in, he declares that “it’s not a blessing, it’s a curse!”) and has sworn off using it. Marie LeLay (Cecilie De France) is an investigative journalist who has a near-death experience during a terrifying tsunami. And Jason (Frankie McClaren), a small boy who finds himself lost in grief after the death of a loved one.

Each of these characters deals with the subject of death in their own ways – George denies his gift so much that he is unable to make a real, human connection. Marie decides to seriously investigate the phenomenon of the afterlife by writing a book about it, and Jason seeks out the aid of various psychics, mediums and quack scientists who will help him re-connect with the one he lost.

The film manufactures plot twists and turns very conveniently until all three of our protagonists find themselves together, bringing the story to its sappy, melodramatic conclusion.

There are many reasons this film fails to work. The chief offender is the simplistic screenplay by Peter Morgan, who wrote “The Queen” and “The Last King of Scotland,” among others. Those complex and political films are energizing and thrilling, while this one feels like a first draft or something written early on in his career. Clichés abound and there are some genuinely cringe-worthy scenes, creaky dialogue and plot devices that should have been tossed.

For example, George takes a cooking class, where he just “happens” to get partnered with the most beautiful woman (Bryce Dallas Howard, in an unflattering hairstyle that belongs in a different movie) and they get to know one another during a blindfolded taste-test. We watch as they longingly spoon each other strange foods and talk about their romantic pasts. Please. This situation barely worked the first eight times I saw it in a film!

This is lazy filmmaking in dress-up clothes. None of these characters seem to have anything at stake. They are still the same people at the end of the film as they were in the beginning. The film has nothing new or interesting to say about the afterlife or even our current lives.

It just sits there and plods along for two solid hours.

The actors do the best they can with what they’ve been given and there are a few affecting moments here and there, but mostly, this film is a big missed opportunity on every level.

If there is an afterlife, I hope it’s more exciting than the vision of heaven on display in this “Hereafter.”

HEREAFTER Dir: Clint Eastwood; SCR: Peter Morgan; STARS: Matt Damon, Marie De France, Bryce Dallas Howard