'Hereafter' Review: Well-Crafted but Ultimately Disappointing

“It’s not a gift, Billy. It’s a curse.” That’s how George Lonegan (Matt Damon) describes his supernatural ability to communicate with the dead in the new movie “Hereafter, which tells the story of three individuals as they struggle with the idea of life after death. Two of them are knowledgeable about the subject while the third is trying to learn more. The afterlife is an intriguing way to tie a movie together and at times, “Hereafter” succeeds but the film also left me with a deep sense of disappointment.

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As the film begins, Lonegan wants to leave his days of being a psychic in the past. He had previously worked with his brother (Jay Mohr) in a business where customers paid Lonegan to have contact with deceased loved ones. That business had done well and Lonegan became famous because of it. However, he eventually became overwhelmed by his "gift" and turned away from it. His brother still encourages him to get back into the business, but George insists he won't communicate with the dead anymore. (His insistence seems shallow considering that throughout the movie, George makes exceptions to his own rule.)

In another storyline, Marie (Cecile De France) is caught in a massive tsunami while on vacation. This is an exciting sequence as she's swept up in the wave, almost dies, has a near-death experience and journeys for a few moments into the afterlife. Her vision of life after death haunts her when she returns to normal life and when she's asked to write a book about one subject, she instead starts writing about her glimpse of the hereafter. In the film’s third major storyline, a young mischievous boy experiences a tragedy that compels him to search for a glimpse of the afterlife. He tirelessly consults numerous so-called “experts” but is disappointed with the results.

The child’s storyline is the strongest and allows the viewer to relate more to the difficult subject of death. Although most of us haven’t had experiences talking to the dead or dying ourselves, we can relate to a person (especially a young person) who is trying to come to grips with such a thing.

Despite its faults, I was interested in the three distinctive stories and wanted to know where they were heading. Unfortunately, the plot sometimes veers off course. For instance, the focus on George's evening cooking classes and his brother's insistence that he return to work as a psychic took up a lot of time and didn't really push the story forward in a meaningful way.

What is most disappointing is the amount of talent involved in the project, especially the skilled professionals behind the scenes. Acclaimed director Clint Eastwood helmed “Hereafter” and Peter Morgan wrote its screenplay. Morgan has previously written some great films including “Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen,” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

Here, unfortunately, the duo doesn't take a lot of risks. Considering the interesting subject matter, there is a lot of potential for the filmmakers to make tough choices about the direction of the film, choices that could enlighten or challenge. Instead, the tough choices aren’t made and the afterlife is only discussed on a superficial level.

The movie is nice on the outside but feels hollow on the inside.

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