Clint Squints at the Afterlife

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

At 80, this surprising director continues to throw us curves.

Clint Eastwood flirted with the supernatural in his allegorical Western Pale Rider, but nothing in his career prepares us for his haunting and haunted Hereafter, a bold, strange, problematic investigation into the nature of the afterlife. At 80, he continues to throw us curves, abandoning the safety of genre for an unconventionally structured story about mortality, loneliness, and the relationship between the living and the dead.

Just to further mix things up, Eastwood opens his movie with the most spectacular action sequence he's ever mounted--a terrifying tsunami wreaking havoc on a tropical island that would be the crowning achievement of any epic disaster movie. Here it's more a stunning feat of misdirection, for the tale that follows is intimate and often hushed.

Caught in the tsunami is the first of the three characters whose fates Hereafter follows, a French television host (Cecile De France) who dies in the storm and then miraculously comes back to life. But her glimpse of the beyond makes it impossible for her to reenter her old life as a Parisian celebrity; instead, she becomes obsessed with writing a book about the eerily similar after-death experiences others have endured, a pursuit that costs her credibility in the eyes of her sophisticated friends. As her unhappy publisher notes, it's a topic more suited to the American market.

The second strand in Peter Morgan's screenplay concerns George (Matt Damon), a reclusive psychic who can communicate with the dead--a gift he's come to regard as a curse. Though his ambitious brother (Jay Mohr) wants him to parlay this talent into a fortune, George has withdrawn into a blue-collar job and a solitary existence in San Francisco. …