Clint Eastwood’s thirty-fourth outing as director sees him reunited with his Invictus star Matt Damon for Oscar nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan’s tale of near-death experience and the curse of psychic abilities.

Damon is the retired ‘reader’ who is able, through touch, to speak to people who have died, conveying messages of comfort or instruction to those left behind. It bills itself as a supernatural drama but this is far more normal than paranormal and for a film which claims to address an issue that everyone in the world can relate to keeps the focus on a small group of people and rarely looks beyond.

It conveys its message jarringly, with the enormous CG heavy opening scene of the Indian Ocean Tsunami looking distressingly real as it mixes with two other stories across the world, only to bring them altogether in London in a barely credible fashion. Cecile De France plays a French journalist whose near-death experience in the opening Tsunami propels her to write a book on the glimpse of the afterlife, Bryce Dallas Howard’s role here is to show how Damon cannot have a normal life when their fledgling relationship buckles under the revealation of his ‘gift’. Damon swirls around them, fighting off his opportunisitc brother’s demands  to make money from his power, and we are expected to be caught up with him.

Eastwood’s films are always interesting, but Hereafter struggles to engage. The director’s hand is too distant and while the film succeeds in colouring the story through the opposites of sudden large scale tragedy and lonely soul-searching inertia it asks a lot of the audience to keep going.

Commendably it takes the route less travelled by and avoids a religious discussion of the nature of the afterlife, and there is a prosaic quality to much of the storytelling here. Damon and Howard, as the two most well known actors here, are muted and lack the Hollywood sheen which affected the connection with Angelina Jolie in Eastwood’s The Changeling and overall the film’s tone is languid and subdued.

The young actors playing surviving twin Marcus do well initially but seems to lose confidence as his character’s overwhelming emotion changes from painful loss to untrusting hope, indeed I felt that I never connected with his character. And seeing smoke plume from the corner entrance to Liverpool Street tube station (renamed Charing Cross in the film) after a bomb on the underground was too close to the exact same sight I witnessed when I lived around the corner on July the 7th 2005. Why rename it if this is meant to be a recreation of the event? Or if not and it is a generic tube bombing why not have it elsewhere?

It’s far from Eastwood’s best, though his character based work is still his most interesting in this late decade of his work. It’s strange to see Morgan’s script so free of spark or wit and the actors do the best with what they’ve got but the undertow of the earnest desire to discuss the notion of the afterlife and those who claim to have seen it weighs the film down. Like the device in Hereafter it feels like there is a very engaging and emotionally rich story at play here, but we only glimpse it in flashes, and we’re unable to be truly taken by it.

The Blu-ray has one of those intrusive Focus Point modes which began with The Matrix where you have something flash on screen which, when selected, throws you into one of the mini featurettes on the disc. Covering location, actors, story and the like these are useful only if you have a desperate urge to see what filming was like. Otherwise avoid. What is far more interesting is The Eastwood Factor, the comprehensive hour and a half documentary on Clint’s years with Warner Bros which is actually a lot more fun than the film itself.

Hereafter is out on Blu-ray and DVD today.