According to this movie the two universal human imperatives are the need to find out whether we can contact the dead and the need to use Google to do so. Can we please de-Google-ize movies? I love Google, too, but it is impossible to make a compelling movie scene out of someone typing into a search engine and scrolling through the links that pop up.
Clint Eastwood’s latest film is a meditation on death, with three entwined stories. A French journalist survives the tsunami but is haunted by visions from an NDE (near-death experience). An English boy sees his twin brother die and desperately tries to find a way to communicate with him. And an American factory worker resists his gift for acting as a conduit between the living and the dead. There are some powerful and moving moments, but the film overstays its welcome and fails to deliver on its promise.
There are people who are consumed with the need to talk with those they have lost, to ask forgiveness, to forgive, to know there is something, someone there. And then there are those who do communicate with the dead, and can be just as consumed with the need to get away from them, whose most important lesson from those who have passed over is that they need to make a life among the living. George (Matt Damon) is one of those. He once had a website and a business doing “readings” for those who want to reach out to their loved ones who had departed. A book was written about him. He appeared on television. But the comfort he brought to those who found some sense of completion in his ability to connect to the dead was outweighed by his own inability to disconnect from the messages he was carrying.
Then there is Marie (Cécile De France), a successful French television journalist on vacation with her producer/boyfriend on an Indonesian resort when the tsunami hits. This is Eastwood as his best, a stunningly powerful sequence that will leave the audience feeling swept into the pounding power of the ocean. Marie glimpses a vision of what might be the afterlife when she is briefly near death. After she returns to France the concerns that occupied her before — her ambitions, the stories she covers, even her relationship — are not as important to her as understanding what she saw and what it means. When once she was excited to appear in posters for Blackberry, now she is interested in a more profound form of communication.
Jason and Marcus (played interchangeably by real-life twins George and Frankie McLaren, a nice touch to show their close connection) are British twins who are exceptionally devoted to one another. They have to be. Their mother is a heroin addict, so they have to work together to take care of her and of each other and keep the social workers from finding out what is really going on in their home. Jason, 12 minutes older, is the more verbal and the decision-maker. He is killed and Marcus sees him die. He is put in foster care while his mother goes to rehab. He is alone. And he needs, desperately, to find a way to talk to the brother who is in every way the other half of himself. He tries a number of psychics but they all seem to be well-meaning fools or downright fakes.
Nothing that happens later in the movie lives up to the inexorable, thundering, power of the tsunami, which makes the under-imagined images of the afterlife seem thin and tepid. Eastwood’s own score (he is an accomplished jazz musician) is nicely understated and evocative. And it was a relief that the heroin-addict mother and the foster parents were not Dickensian ogres. But the stories meander. The movie could lose half an hour easily — until they all come together for a conclusion that feels inadequate. When a magician shows you a hat, you are entitled to see a rabbit. No rabbit here.