The worst thing about being a psychic is that it doesn't even help you get chicks. Having the gift of being able to speak with the dead makes it so hard to be normal that even a looker like Matt Damon has to take adult education classes to meet ladies.
In Clint Eastwood's latest directorial outing, Hereafter, Damon is George Lonegan, a former professional psychic turned working-class everyman living in San Francisco. George has rejected his past and just wants to be normal, but it ain't easy when you can't hold hands with someone without seeing ghosts. So when he enrolls in an Italian cooking class—that can boast of being taught by no less than Sopranos star Steve Schirripa—and gets foxy redhead Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) as his lab partner, he still doesn't feel very confident that he'll keep from messing things up. During a class exercise, Melanie and George confess their loneliness to each other while blindfolded. Like much of the film, it's an awkward moment that feels brilliant and hokey at the same time.
I won't give away anything about what happens between George and Melanie, because one of the most appealing things about the film is how gangly the story feels. For a narrative that deals with fate and multiple story lines that will (groan) inevitably intersect, Hereafter feels as if it could veer off in any direction at any time.
As for those other story lines: Parisian television journalist Marie LeLay (Cécile De France) has started to have visions of the afterlife, and it's getting in the way of her career as a serious television journalist, her relationship with her boyfriend and (worst of all?) her gig as the new poster girl for BlackBerry. In London, young Marcus has lost his twin brother, Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren), and his junkie mom is giving him up to the foster system. It's disappointing when the puzzle pieces conveniently fit together near the film's end, but you shouldn't expect screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/ Nixon and other Oscar fare) not to eventually make things tidy.
Eastwood has a craftsman's confidence that gives this film—and many of his works—a steady, almost plodding feeling that enhances its weirdness. Eastwood is great at locating the tension in stillness, and—to invert a cliché—Hereafter happens in the calm after the storm (a breathtaking tsunami set piece opens the picture). Eastwood's camera is a blank stare that doesn't flinch from arid setups and awkward character interactions. As a result, Hereafter is funny in ways that might not have been intentional (like the blindfold scene), but also in positive ways that points to people's vulnerabilities as they try to connect.
It's the difficulty of human connection that gives Hereafter its heart. The film sometimes feels a bit like an M. Night Shyamalan picture, what with seeing dead people and the presence of Howard (The Village, Lady in the Water). But it's in the humanity and tenderness beneath the weird surface that you find the strengths of the film. (In this way, it shares an inspiration with Shyamalan: Spielberg's Close Encounters.) While a human touch may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the guy who played Dirty Harry, Eastwood never loses sight of his characters' humanity in this spotty, peculiar and occasionally beguiling film.