‘Hereafter’ fails to keep attention

"Hereafter" Pitchforks: 2.5 out of 5 Starring: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cécile De France, Jay Mohr Rating: PG-13 In theaters now

Clint Eastwood turned 80 this year — a milestone birthday marking an age when the general population has retired and is enjoying the wonders of the world, taking it nice and slow. But not Eastwood. He’s still working hard, sitting behind the camera making movie magic. He doesn’t need to stop working, because he lives out the retirement he’s missing vicariously through his films. His most recent film “Hereafter,” does just that, traveling the world with no sense of hurry, taking its sweet old time getting to the end.

“Hereafter” takes the title from how one of its three main characters refers to the afterlife. The character, Marie LeLay (Cécile De France) becomes fascinated with the afterlife after having a brush with death when a tsunami, brought to life by some of the worst special effects of the decade, wipes out the island she’s vacationing on. She then embarks on a quest to learn more about the vision she had, taking time off from her job as a French television news show host.

The other two focal points of the story are George Lonegan (Matt Damon) and Marcus (George McLaren). Lonegan is a once successful psychic who quit because “a life that’s all about death is no life at all,” as his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) quotes him. Marcus is a young boy living in London. It’s Lonegan who Marcus seeks out after his twin brother gets hit by a car while picking up a prescription for their junkie mom.

The film follows the three separate stories. LeLay alienates her colleagues when becoming engrossed in writing a book that would only be appealing to English and American audiences (the French way of saying trashy).

Lonegan tries to escape his gift that’s really a curse that’s really a gift, passing up the big paychecks his talent could bring to work at the San Francisco area C&H Sugar plant. He wants to live a normal life - but when every time you touch someone, you make a connection with their dead relatives, things become difficult.

Marcus, the younger twin by 12 minutes whose shyness is crippling, exhausts every option in an attempt to communicate with his dead brother, that is, until he finds Lonegan at a book convention where Lonegan meets LeLay and the three stories converge.

But before the three plots collide, we must watch the three characters develop and develop and then develop a little more. This is not a total bore, for the first hour. Each of the three is fascinating enough in their own right, with compelling enough stories that you want to get to know more. And then you do, and you realized you learned enough and feel that it’s time to get to the point. Too bad, because there are still another 30 minutes of character development to be endured.

Many of the scenes are long and drawn-out, building up unnecessary tension that manifests itself into frustration, and then ultimately into boredom, forcing your attention span into a reverse metamorphosis.

Its 129-minute running time, which felt like 180 minutes, could have easily lost 30 without suffering the loss of any plot points. Many scenes are a 30-70 split of silence and dialogue respectively. It’s as if Eastwood wants you to be able to empathize with his 80 years.

It all boils down into a frustrating mess. Damon is great as Lonegan, a funny guy who has some serious issues and deals without losing his charismatic human touch. De France as LeLay, despite her terrible hair and teeth in need of braces, displays engaging confidence and feistiness, while the endearing McLaren as Marcus steals the screen as the young boy who’s much wiser and more mature than his young age. Dealing with the death of his twin brother is something that is deeply sad, something that Eastwood handles masterfully.

By the end of it all you just don’t care anymore. Sitting through the buildup and waiting for the three stories to somehow intertwine, leading to something that’s equally grandiose, is exhausting.

Finally, when the expected arrives, it’s a gigantic letdown that in no way lives up to the expectations the previous two hours built up. The complex issue of life after death is put aside for an ending that lets your brain take a break from both thinking and consciousness. Sleep tight.

Reach the reporter at pmelbour@asu.edu


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