Movie review: Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama 'Hereafter' a taut and expressive film

Dana Barubto

Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama “Hereafter” isn’t what you might expect from the prolific director, but that’s a good thing. The film, which ponders the existential question of what happens to us when we die, tells three separate stories in a “Babel”-esque fashion. In one, Matt Damon is a psychic who has unbelievable powers to connect with the dead. Another focuses on a French journalist (Cecile De France from the “Mesrine” flicks) who is shaken by a near-death experience. The third – and most affecting – centers on young British twins. Jason is outgoing, Marcus reserved.

They’re inseparable until Jason dies in a car accident, leaving a grief-stricken Marcus to fend for himself and care for their junkie mother (Lyndsey Marshal). The twins are played by newcomers Frankie and George McLaren. Expect to see them more after this affecting portrayal. They’ve got sweet voices and big, expressive eyes, which have the ability to convey just how deep a loss the character has suffered.

Written by Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”), “Hereafter” is neither religious nor political. It’s more about spirituality, without being moody or overly contemplative. It doesn’t offer any answers to the questions it poses, yet you don’t leave the theater feeling down or morose. There’s a good dose of uplift in the end that might leave you scratching your head. But enough about that, I don’t want to be a spoiler.

As he gets older, Damon is becoming a master of nuance. This role as tortured psychic George Lonegan isn’t his usual fare, but he nonetheless is solid. There’s no signature soliloquy or a rally-the-troops speech or any moments where he has to go all Jason Bourne on someone. His is a run-of-the-mill dramatic turn that in the hands of a lesser actor might fall flat. His presence alone adds gravity. Ditto for the lovely De France, who gives a hearty turn as hard-hitting news anchor Marie LeLay, who is forced to leave her job after she becomes obsessed with the afterlife.

Naturally, all three stories end up in each other’s orbit, but before that happens each has its own interesting subplots. Damon’s psychic tries to dodge what he calls a “curse” but his brother (Jay Mohr) calls a “gift.” The brother sees how lucrative a career this can be and pushes him to resume readings. Trying to just be a normal guy, George takes a cooking class (some of the film’s best scenes), where he meets a girl (Bryce Dallas Howard). Sparks fly until she’s later scared off by his psychic abilities.

Back in England, the surviving twin is taken away from his mother and put in foster care. Your heart just breaks every time this kid is on screen. I never stopped rooting for him. Meanwhile, in France, Marie takes to writing a book, called – what else? – “Hereafter.”

Eastwood’s direction remains taut throughout the film. The movie opens with an extended action sequence of a fast-moving tsunami ripping over an Indonesian resort, leaving the beach town devastated. After that, Eastwood never hurries the plot along and never lets his actors become too melodramatic – and if any topic lends itself to histrionics it’s death and dying. Every action, moment and line of dialogue feels deliberate. Eastwood provided the original music, too, full of lilting guitar notes.

Mainly, though, the film is a commentary on the human condition; all the characters are searching for answers and contentment. These are themes that have been explored many times before, but Eastwood makes a lasting impression with these matters of life and death. In the end, “Hereafter” is eternally Eastwood.

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HEREAFTER (PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language.) Cast includes Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile De France, Frankie and George McLaren. Directed by Clint Eastwood. 3 stars out of 4.