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Originally published October 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Page modified October 25, 2010 at 10:45 AM

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Movie review

'Hereafter': Not Clint Eastwood's best, but still affecting

A review of "Hereafter," an unfocused but still affecting tale of three lost souls, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Hereafter,' with Matt Damon, Cecile De France, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Marthe Keller, Derek Jacobi. Directed by Clint Eastwood, from a screenplay by Peter Morgan. 128 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language. In English with occasional French, wtih English subtitles where necessary. Several theaters.

MOVIE REVIEW 2.5 stars

Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" is one of those movies that works better on a second viewing; it's a gentle, loosely structured tale of lost souls that'll wash away if you let it. Far softer and more subtle than Eastwood's usual powerful dramas, it feels disappointing on first view, as if there isn't enough there. The screenplay, by Peter Morgan ("The Queen," "Frost/Nixon"), plays like a first draft — which, according to a New York Times article last week, it was — in which the disparate parts never quite come together. A character says that she is "at the end of my journey, with as many questions as I started with"; it's a description that could apply to the film as well.

But there's still something haunting about "Hereafter," a story of loss, near-death experience and how the dead remain with us. It takes place on three continents, with three main characters who are united (through a seemingly too tidy plot contrivance) at the end. George (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar fellow in San Francisco, taking a cooking class in the hope of meeting a nice girl and trying to discourage his brother (Jay Mohr) from telling people about his gift: George can, it turns out, talk to dead people, and is sought out by grieving folk who want a last conversation with loved ones. Marie (Cecile De France) is a Paris journalist who, on holiday in Indonesia, narrowly escapes death by tsunami and can't shake the memory of the experience — a blurry white tunnel, beckoning shadows — when she returns home.

And in the most affecting subplot, set in London, 10-year-old Marcus struggles to face life after his twin brother, Jason (both boys are played by twins George and Frankie McLaren, in their film debut), is killed in a car accident. Their alcoholic mother cannot cope, and Marcus wanders through his days alone, wearing his brother's baseball cap; at night, he stares at the empty bed next to him. He needs Jason to make him whole, and desperately wants to speak with him again, to beg him to come back. Eastwood does beautiful work with the McLaren boys, whose melancholy eyes and final smile — as if something has finally burst free of its restraints — will touch any viewer's heart.

All of the adult actors also do lovely work — Damon, in particular, brings a nicely low-key everydayness to his character's scenes — and "Hereafter" has Eastwood's usual fine production values. It's just unfocused, like those shadows in the tunnel.

I first watched the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, at the end of a long day of viewing (five movies), and was disappointed by its apparent flatness. Watching it a second time — and, to be sure, expecting less — I found much more to appreciate. It's not Eastwood's best, but "Hereafter" is an interesting addition to this still-busy director's body of work; a pause to reflect on what happens when the drama stops, and yet life must somehow go on.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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