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Hereafter: movie review

Director Clint Eastwood's moody 'Hereafter' tries hard, but veers uncomfortably close to quackery.

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The second additional story, which in some ways is the best, is about Marcus, a young English boy whose twin brother Jason is killed, leading him to seek out Jason's spirit in an earthly world teeming with charlatans and indifference. (The boys are played by George and Frankie McClaren.) Little Marcus, in foster care after being removed from his drug-addicted mother, is palpably lonely. He wears his brother's hat and expertly sifts through the many Internet psychic fakers before deciding that George is the real deal.

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The three stories coverge at a Lon­don book fair, where closure, even happiness, await all. Who said publishing is dead? (Or, in this case, undead.)

I realize it's bad manners to be flip about a movie that emblazons its heart on its sleeve. But "Hereafter," soggy with portentous uplift, invites that response. Eastwood, who also wrote the simple score, inexplicably lays in (uncredited) wayward snatches from Rachmaninoff – specifically, the second piano concerto that did such yeoman work in "Brief Encounter." He gives us glimpses of the next world that look like digitized outtakes from the alien embarkation in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Throughout the movie, the sentiments that come back from the dead are invariably upstanding, as if Hallmark had cornered the market on pensées from the netherworld.

George, a rather dull fellow, may be racked by his gift, but there's precious little psychological examination of what such abilities would do to a person. (I have a feeling it would involve more than cooking classes and Charles Dickens audiobooks.)

The filmmakers have constructed a universe that is beyond skepticism or rational retort.

This is their right, but it makes for a rather tenuous movie experience. It's not that great movies can't be constructed around such themes. Dreyer and Bergman and Mizoguchi, for starters, didn't do a half-bad job of mucking around in the great beyond. (Neither did Shakespeare.) But the pained people with whom we are encouraged to identify in "Hereafter" are viewed solely through a misty, spiritualized lens that often seems uncomfortably, and unadmittingly, close to quackery.

Eastwood and Morgan are not con artists, but their awe here is so unblinking that their film comes across as a transcendent con job. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.)

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