By Andrew Payne

Just because a film is about eternity, doesn’t mean it should feel like it.

Clint Eastwood’s latest, Hereafter, opens wide in theaters this week. The Peter Morgan-penned script is of the hyperlink variety telling three different tales of death and how we perceive the afterlife. Though after sitting through this trodding bore, you may too feel as though you’ve experienced eternity.

The hyperlink film follows three stories that tread similar thematic ground while remaining wholly separate. They are as follows:

In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a retired psychic able to provide anyone he meets detailed contact with their loved ones who’ve passed on. Lonegan has distanced himself from the practice as he’d found his ability to be too great a burden to bear, but his enterprising brother Billy (Jay Mohr) urges him to take advantage of his psychic abilities and a developing romance with a member of his cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds George opening up more than he’d like.

Meanwhile, French Journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) survives a tsunami while on vacation with her producer/lover (Thierry Neuvic) but not before nearly drowning and crossing over to the other side. Her near-death experience leaves Marie shaken causing her to take a leave of absence from her job and neglect other opportunities as she quests to make sense of what happened to her.

Finally, in England a pair of twin boys (Frankie and George McLaren) look after their heroin-addicted mother who finally seems ready to clean up. While on a trip to the pharmacy to retrieve his mother’s methadone, Marcus, the older twin, is struck by a truck and dies on the pavement. Grief-stricken, Marcus’ brother Jason, winds up in foster care as he seeks a way to make contact with his deceased twin.

Clearly, this is a film obsessed with death and with that in mind it takes an appropriately bleak and muted tone. This seems befitting of the subject matter, except the script takes such an optimistic view about passing on that at times the film on the page seems to be at odds with the film on the screen.

But tonal control is really the least of this film’s problems. Its major issues is simply that it has one story (Lonegan’s) that’s very interesting and two that are much less so. The story of the twin boys moves along at a nice enough pace, but never manages to rise above its initial impact. Almost like the climax is misplaced in a jumbled structure. But the real show-stopper (literally) is the French.

The character in this story is so shrill and unpleasant and the point of her story so vague for so long, that any moment we cut to France seems tailor-made for a DVD chapter skip. Unfortunately, in a theater, we’re not afforded that luxury and are forced to trudge through each insufferable minute, all the time wondering what’s going on with George Lonegan.

And that’s the real downside to this movie – The Lonegan story is so well-realized with richly drawn characters and a very intriguing plot (how often do we see psychic powers dealt with in a way that seems wholly authentic?) that taking us away from it seems like a betrayal. And limiting it to a third of a movie destroys development for some of its absorbing minor characters and causes George’s eventual decisions to feel more like plotting than any real story development.

What’s left is a great film unfinished and two films we don’t care about at all. Yes, there’s a relation to the stories, but the theme that ties them together (that we’re fascinated with the afterlife?) isn’t even strong enough for one storyline – let alone three. It’s a frustrating film to watch and one that seems like it’s grasping to be more important th