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'Hereafter' a thoughtful drama

Article Published: Nov. 4, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Hereafter' a thoughtful drama

Matt Damon stars in 'Hereafter.'

Funny enough, whenever I hear "Clint Eastwood," I think of the subway scene in 'Crocodile' Dundee 2, where star Paul Hogan is mistaken by a couple Japanese tourists for Clint Eastwood.

"Do you know who that was? Clint Eastwood! Yes, yes, very tall. Yes. Clint Eastwood."

Needless to say, that name drop is the least of his accomplishments, but it makes a good point - everyone knows Clint Eastwood.

One could call him seasoned, but not to his face, since his intimidation scale is still off the charts (see Gran Torino), though inarguably, this iconic director/actor is one of the best talents in Hollywood.

Eastwood broadens his scope with Hereafter, a quiet, supernatural drama that expertly combines introspective storytelling with superb performances.

It's an impressive addition to his collective oeuvre, which runs the gamut from revenge (1976's The Outlaw Josey Wales) to morality (1992's Unforgiven) to aging (2008's Gran Torino), and all themes in between.

In Hereafter, Eastwood, now at 80, takes the next step and tackles mortality for a thoughtful drama that examines how death - and the possibility of life afterward - affects life.

The story focuses on three characters - George (Matt Damon, The Informant!), a blue-collar American; Marie (Cecile De France, High Tension), a French journalist; and Marcus (Frankie & George McLaren), a London schoolboy.

George has possessed a sixth sense ever since surviving a childhood illness, allowing him to speak with the dead and, in turn, bringing him a degree of fame and fortune. But the talent becomes more of a curse, as George finds himself alienated from "normal" people and bears a series of unsuccessful relationships.

He turns his back on the profitable psychic readings and opts to work in a factory, all while his brother, Billy (Jay Mohr, Suicide Kings), attempts to convince him otherwise. Meanwhile, he pursues another relationship with newfound interest Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village), only to find it threatened when she asks for a reading.

Marie, while vacationing in Thailand, has a near-death experience when she barely survives a catastrophic tsunami that annihilates the coastline. She returns to France a different person, unable to focus on work, rather devoting her attention to investigating her experience and others' similar testimonies.

This garners her derision from her colleagues, including her producer/boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic, Stella) and publisher, who feel her experience is the result of a concussion and consider her research into the matter frivolous and more akin to New Age and science fiction.

Marcus and his identical twin brother, Jason, live in London with their drug-addled mother (Lyndsey Marshal, HBO's Rome), relying only on each other and doing everything in their power to evade social services, even if it means covering for their mom by fabricating an illusion of normalcy.

But Jason's life is cut tragically short in an accident, leaving their mother in custody and Marcus to fend for himself in a foster family. His attempts to grasp the notion of death are stymied by phony psychics and mediums, and he attempts to contact George by way of his website, maintained by Billy throughout the years, for answers - any answers.

Eventually, the lives of George, Marie and Marcus - all affected differently by death -converge, all realizing they most confront their fears if they're ever to move on.

The performances are simply swell, and, thankfully, Hereafter doesn't suffer from the bad-child-actor syndrome. And, wisely, Eastwood doesn't make his French characters speak English with French accents, allowing them to perform in their native tongue to the audience's advantage.

Hereafter moves at a slow, almost ethereal pace - not one for the fidgety or those who like their ghosts as pale Japanese waif girls with stringy hair and herky-jerky movements. It's not a thriller by any means, as falsely advertised in some of its trailers, but rather a character study from a director who knows characters. Though borderline sappy toward its inevitable conclusion, Hereafter's directed with enough of Eastwood's understated finesse to leave audiences feeling good without having felt forced into it.

Hereafter, rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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