It’s strange to think that the famously adamantine Clint Eastwood should be so easy to brush off nowadays. But somehow his movies have become wishy-washy.
Clint Eastwood gets philosophical, directing Matt Damon (pictured) in this supernatural drama about a psychic who can—but refuses to—
Fitting, then, that it’s a tsunami that kickstarts the action in Eastwood’s Hereafter, a melodrama about three people from different countries who connect over a shared sense of loss. Not only does the deadly wave propel the plot by almost killing one character (the French journalist played by Cécile de France), but it establishes the movie’s vibe: Everything is sodden and blasted. Maybe we should be thankful that Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) had enough restraint not to show us whatever faraway butterfly wing-flutter brought it on in the first place.
Instead they give us the journalist trying to cope by writing a memoir of her calamity, plus a grieving English schoolboy (George McLaren) cycling through YouTube clips for a psychic that the boy trusts can help him communicate with a recently deceased relative. That noble burden-bearer is played by Matt Damon, a sad-sack clairvoyant who lives alone in a glum San Francisco walk-up, dodging the invasive ESP jolts that rattle his soul whenever he touches people and summons their departed, demanding loved ones. As the movie goes through its tedious motions with the other characters, and with getting them all together, it seems mostly to want to be about the call of Damon’s duty. Fair enough: He’s been popping corn like this at least since Good Will Hunting.
He passes his days punching a clock at some out-of-town factory, while his brother, a puffy and affable Jay Mohr, urges Damon’s character to return to merchandizing his gift—as he did before he declared it not a blessing but a curse. His ESP “ruins any chance I have at a normal life,” he says. “I feel like a freak.” Indeed, like some sullen adolescent X-Men mutant or Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, he must always wear gloves or avoid physical contact altogether. He must endure the embarrassing contrivance of a cooking-class courtship with a pretty and peculiarly desperate woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) who throws herself at him and then is repelled by the harrowing revelation his supernatural insight allows. He must subdue his conscience and shut his door in the faces of the needy.
Damon’s character is, convenient to the plot’s purposes, a Dickens fan, and there is something stirring in the radiant humility with which he finds himself at the London Book Fair seeking an autograph from book-on-tape maestro Derek Jacobi. It’s more or less the same righteous swoon—the accepted privilege to stand among great historical figures, as filtered through great actors—that he sparked with Morgan Freeman’s Nelson Mandela in the previous Eastwood film, Invictus. Might Hereafter really just be a parable of the lonely, curiously afflicted life of the aging and ever-virtuous movie star?