The elegance and versatility of 80 year-old Clint Eastwood never ceases to amaze, along with his remarkable productivity, including “Invictus,” “Gran Torino,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Changeling,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and “Mystic River.” His latest – and most unconventional – challenge is a tantalizing, melancholy meditation on mortality and the afterlife.
The story begins in 2004 in a tropical beach resort in Indonesia, where French TV news anchor Marie Lelay (Belgian-born European actress Cecile de France), vacationing with her lover/colleague, nearly drowns in the monstrous Indian Ocean tsunami; when she returns to Paris, she’s haunted by vague, inexplicable, paranormal visions and discovers that her life has changed completely. (This opening segment is entirely, disconcertingly, in French with English subtitles.) Then in London, a shy, lonely lad, Marcus, mourns the accidental death of his identical twin brother, Jason (both schoolboys are alternately played by George and Frankie McLaren), along with inability of his junkie, working-class mother to take proper care of him; desperate to contact Jason, young Marcus ventures into the British psychic community that’s obviously filled with fakes and frauds. And in San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is an authentic but anguished psychic who has discovered that his bizarre ‘gift’ alienates him from those around him, leaving him spending his nights at home alone, listening to audio recordings of Charles Dickens novels, longing for companionship and understanding, particularly with flirtatious Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) whom he meets in a cooking class. As George astutely observes, “A life that’s all about death is no life at all.”
Screenwriter Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) artfully interweaves the three diverse – but tormented – storylines which eventually, metaphysically converge, somewhat reminiscent of “Crash” and “Babel.” Cinematographer Tom Stern subtly, handsomely differentiates the respective settings and the CGI/FX tsunami is horrifyingly breathtaking. Plus, Eastwood’s original musical score complements each scene.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hereafter” is a pensive, leisurely yet curiously compelling, spiritual 7, attempting to simplistically explore the eternal, intangible unknown, ultimately emerging as unenlightening and unfulfilling.