Last year I chided Clint Eastwood’s film “Invictus” for trying too hard to be inspirational.  Ironically enough his latest effort “Hereafter” suffers from the exact opposite problem: it does not try hard enough to be upbeat.  This incredibly somber tale is so agonizingly slow paced that it borders on tedious.

The blame should not rest entirely on Eastwood’s shoulders though since the screenplay is penned by Brit Peter Morgan.  Morgan has made a name for himself with acclaimed dramas like “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen,” and even though no one does dark humor better than the English, Morgan leaves the moments of levity sparse at best. 

Hereafter” weaves together the stories of a blue-collar American (Matt Damon), a French journalist (Cécile de France), and an English schoolboy (Frankie/George McLaren), each of which is profoundly affected by death in different ways.  The three are introduced separately, with the film’s perspective alternating between them until their paths eventually cross toward the climax.

Damon’s character George Lonegan is a medium with the power to speak to those who have passed on.  Lonegan has sworn off this line of work in favor of a normal life, but no one will let him leave it behind.  What’s even more discouraging for him is that when he does use his abilities, they only further alienate him from those around him.  George’s part of the movie is about seeking that human connection he lacks. 

Marie LeLay is a journalist who has her own brush with death.  Her experience shakes the very foundation of her life, leading her to question established beliefs about death.  Even though everyone around her thinks that she is crazy, the subject of LeLay’s next serious project becomes researching and reporting on what it is like for those who have claimed to see the afterlife.

Ultimately the most depressing portion of the film revolves around the British child Marcus.  Poor Marcus already comes from a tough home, where he struggles just to get through the day-to-day activities, without landing the care of social services.  Marcus suffers the sudden tragic loss of someone close to him, and the young boy has no idea how to cope.  Desperate for contact with his lost loved one, he scours London in search of someone that can communicate with the dead, and help him find closure.

Matt Damon’s character is arguably the most interesting, because of his talents as a medium.  The dialogue during the parts where he provides readings is written effectively to pull you into the experience.  Damon himself is also very convincing as the depressed loner George.  It’s easy to feel sympathetic to his character and to root for him to find someone to make him happy.  His emotional payoff is rewarding to the viewer, but only a tiny ray of light on a dark cloudy day that represents the film as a whole.

Due to its overwhelming focus on the negative, “Hereafter” is an incredibly difficult film to watch without feeling bogged down.  The inclusion of more lightness to balance out the dark subject matter would definitely make it easier to watch. If you’re really gung-ho on seeing “Hereafter” because you are a Clint Eastwood fan, save yourself the 2 hours in the theater and wait to see this one at home where you are not as bound to your seat.

My Grade: C