Following the "Crash" method, "Hereafter" tells its story in three parts, three vignettes about death that ultimately tie together. The first story concerns a French reporter named Marie (Cecile De France). While on vacation on a tropical island, Marie very nearly dies during a tsunami. After being rescued at the very last possible moment, she remembers the visions that she had while underwater and believes that she has touched the void, an experience that obviously changes her. The second story follows Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), twin boys with a drugged-out mother. After being sent on an errand, Jason is chased by a gang of teenagers and ends up running into traffic where a truck hits and kills him. The loss throws Marcus into a tail spin and he spends the majority of his subsequent screen time looking for answers about death. The third story revolves around George (Matt Damon), a man blessed (or cursed) with a genuine psychic ability. After years of dealing with death, George has abandoned his calling and works at a factory to the chagrin of his brother, Billy (Jay Mohr). After Billy talks him into rediscovering his ability, George skips town and comes in contact with our other two protagonists, bringing the stories together.
While it positions itself as part character study, part exploration into the realm of spirituality, "Hereafter" leans much more heavily upon the character side of that equation, requiring a lot of its actors. I'm not sure the majority of the cast was up for this. Damon is strong as always. George's battle between his own desire to keep his talent hidden and the constant push to the contrary of almost everyone around him is the most emotionally relevant portion of the movie. I was far more invested in Damon's vignette than I was the others, though I am an unabashed Damon fan and may not be entirely unbiased. For her part, France provides a fairly compelling performance but one that doesn't truly connect with the viewer. Perhaps she wasn't given a lot to work with as I found Peter Morgan's script to be lacking, but regardless, Marie comes across as somewhat hollow. And then we have the McLaren twins. I doubt you will ever see me bash on a child actor for being a bad actor. They're kids, most of them aren't so great as of yet. That said, I will never understand a seasoned, established director casting children who simply cannot act to play important roles. These poor kids are kind of awful and they suck the momentum out of every scene that they're in. Near the conclusion, what should be the most riveting and touching scene of the movie is instead cut down by a kid trying to be an actor and falling miserably short. The McLarens try hard, bless them, but in all honesty, their involvement robs "Hereafter" of its best storyline.
"Hereafter" is a strange departure from the norm for director Clint Eastwood and it kind of leaves you wondering what was going on in his own life when he decided to make this film. There's a definite sense of questioning within the very fabric of the movie's makeup which could have been drawn upon with more intensity and significance than it ultimately is. The special effects are good, the shot selection and use of color is excellent, resulting in what is, at times, a technically beautiful film, yet it lacks the heart needed to live up to its promise. "Hereafter" is a bit shallow when it's all said and done. It is a surface exploration into the Unknown that leaves the viewer feeling dissatisfied.