When Amores Perros came out in 2000, it looked like an uncharacteristically arty variation on the spate of Pulp Fiction knock-offs that inundated video store shelves with gritty, achronological, interconnected narratives throughout the ’90s. Seen today, Amores Perros looks less like a continuation of the Tarantino boom than the beginning of a new subgenre that includes writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-ups 29 Grams and Babel as well as the Oscar-winning Crash. These films share a weakness for gimmicky structures, but also a portentous tone and a sometimes unbearable eagerness to comment on the interconnectedness of humanity and the randomness and cruelty of fate.
Late to the party, director Clint Eastwood and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan try their hand at the interconnectedness-of-humanity subgenre with Hereafter, an ambitious, globetrotting drama about mortality, fate, and the thin line separating the dead from the living. Matt Damon stars as an unassuming young man blessed and cursed with the ability to communicate with the dead. Damon’s brother (Jay Mohr) wants to exploit his gift for commercial gain, but Damon is ambivalent at best about his special talent. Halfway around the world, meanwhile, a glamorous French television personality (Cecile De France) experiences a profound spiritual awakening following a near-death experience, and a spooky little English boy attempts to communicate with his dead twin brother.
Morgan’s screenplays for Frost/Nixon and The Queen were clever to the point of being glib, but the hotshot screenwriter’s facility for witty dialogue abandons him here. Hereafter isn’t just unfunny; it’s positively humorless. In sharp contrast to the hyperbolic melodrama of Crash, Hereafter is hushed and understated to an almost perverse degree; it’s so sleepy it borders on narcoleptic. Eastwood develops so little momentum that when the film’s three discreet strands intersect climactically, it feels more arbitrary than revelatory. Just because a film takes place entirely in the long shadow of death doesn’t mean it has to be this relentlessly dour.