Oh dear, the great Eastwood has laid an egg with this one. He's come a cropper indeed with this ponderously-paced drama that examines three disparate individuals and their dealings with mortality and the afterlife. While he has a big canvas to play on, there really isn't enough meat therein to grab hold of.
The opening 10 minutes are the best of the whole film. Pretty De France plays Marie, a TV news presenter holidaying in Indonesia with her lover when their beach resort is hit by a massive tsunami. The huge wave sweeps over the hotel and through the neighbouring village causing widespread destruction, and the CGI effects rendering this disaster are astonishingly good. See it on the biggest screen possible. It's a brilliant piece of cinema and startling to watch. Unfortunately, it all goes downhill after this immensely impressive set piece.
Marie is knocked dead and briefly experiences a kind of out of body feeling before being miraculously pulled back to consciousness. It has a shattering effect on her life and her job back in Paris. She takes time off work to try to understand the near death encounter and get some answers by writing a book about her ordeal, acquiring a new enlightenment in the process.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, Damon plays an unhappy psychic called George. He used to do readings for people, receiving communications from their dead relatives, but has given that up for a manual job. But his psychic abilities will not go away, causing him angst when strangers ask him for help. At a cookery class he meets attractive Melanie (Howard) but he is still striving for answers to his troubled existence. He feels he cannot live while being constantly in touch with the dead.
The third story strand concerns a young boy called Marcus (played by twins Frankie and George McLaren). He lives in a grimy South London council estate with his twin brother and alcoholic mother (Marshall) but his life is turned upside down when his sibling is hit by a lorry and dies. Marcus too is searching for answers – a message from his deceased loved one via a genuine intermediary is what he is looking for. The three characters eventually converge in London. Will they achieve an acceptance of their lot? Will they be released from their tormented shackles? Will you be persuaded by their respective new attitudes to life and the quasi-supernatural? Is your imagination pliable enough? Will you care?
Well, mine wasn't and I didn't. While Eastwood imbues his film with a graceful sensibility its success ultimately lies in how willing you are to believe in its premise. I'm a concerted sceptic when it comes to all things to do with the afterlife so I felt it was a load of codswallop overall. But the outer trappings are noteworthy. The actors give earnest performances and enter into the spirit of it with nuanced conviction. Damon is muted but believable in his quest to escape the outer-worldly talent that is plaguing his life while De France radiates a plausible and careful determination in surrendering herself to a more mystical plane. Unfortunately, the two British boys playing Marcus are wooden and give stiff line readings at times, never properly suggesting the character's vulnerability. (American child actors by contrast are natural and responsive. Why is there such a discrepancy in the young acting abilities of the two countries?)
But it's beautifully filmed and Eastwood also contributes a subtle, well judged music score. All in all, thoughtm it's much ado about nothing. The narrative is sluggishly developed and it falls far short of being the emotional powerhouse it could be. A worthy try to be sure, but it doesn't cut the mustard. File under respectable failure
EXTRAS ★★★½ It's a Triple Play Blu-ray, so as well as the film in HD on Blu-ray, you also get a DVD and Digital copy. Elsewhere, there's Step Into the Hereafter Focus Points (42min) — nine different segments about the movie's production that you can watch individually, as featurettes, or which can be integrated into the movie; The Eastwood Factor: Extended Version (129min) — The feature-length 2010 documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman and directed by Richard Schickel, about Eastwood's career.