"Hereafter" Review: Clint Eastwood Finds A New World

this film publicity image released by Warner Bros., Matt Damon is shown in a scene from, "Hereafter." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., Ken Regan)
Matt Damon is shown in a scene from, "Hereafter." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., Ken Regan)

At 80, Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood is still in search of new ideas and he find it in his latest directorial venture "Hereafter," which pulsates with intrigue and drama as it tackles the age-old question of what happens when we die.

Pictures: Clint Eastwood
Photos: Tribute to Clint

Eastwood adroitly weaves together the stories of three seemingly unrelated characters into one clear, compelling story with universal appeal and that comes across as completely organic and utterly unforced. It's a difficult thing to do when the subject matter is based purely on speculation and hypotheticals.

"Hereafter" opens with an ominous, stomach-churning flood scene that can best be summed up as terrifying. Fashioned on the tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004, a similar cataclysm gathers force as it heads directly for an Asian beach resort, where Marie (Cecile de France), a seasoned French television anchorwoman , and her boss and lover (Thierry Neuvic) are vacationing.

As the colossal rogue wave swells, so does the sense of helplessness and inevitability the audience feels for the scope of the tragedy that is about to unfold and its impending impact on the two characters just introduced.

In an effort to recreate as meticulously as possible the flood scene and its sweeping destruction of the shopping resort village, the director, armed with a camera, hopped on a surfboard and joined his crew into huge swells .

Marie is shopping for souvenirs for her lover's children when the wave breaks. The TV anchorwoman is swept away and then struck while underwater. She loses all consciousness, in what can best be described as a near-death experience. The force of the wave throws her ashore miles from her original position, where she is found by two men, who try unsuccessfully to revive her.

A few moments later, however, she opens her eyes to the world and the devastation around her. The experience proves life-altering . Risking her career and personal life, she begins a quest to come face to face with her own mortality and uncover what exactly happened to her on the other side.

Shift to a working-class area of London where young twins Jason and Marcus (George and Frankie McLaren) are forced to deal with a deadbeat mother consumed by drugs and alcohol and staving off social workers intent on putting them into foster care. Being 12 minutes older, Jason feels responsible for his younger brother Marcus, who dotes on the elder twin. Tragedy strikes when Jason is hit by a car and killed, leaving Marcus devastated, alone and in desperate need of answers. He turn sto a psychic in hopes of learning where his brother's soul has gone.

In San Francisco, George (Matt Damon) is a psychic trying to bury his "gift" of being able to connect with the dead. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Melanie, a displaced Midwestern girl he hopes can help him start over. Things take a twist when she asks him to do a reading and the two go their separate ways. To get over the break-up, he plans a trip overseas.

Through what seems like the completely unrelated journeys, the paths of the principal characters intertwine, converging in a rich, complex, yet utterly plausible story that takes its time as it meanders through the tension each character experiences.

Peter Morgan's ("The Queen," " 'Frost/Nixon" and "The Last King of Scotland") writing is supremely vivid, painting a texturally rich canvas the actors use as their jumping-off point. Eastwood, by his own admission, likes to let the vignettes mature at their own pace before building to a convergent climax.

Exploring Marie's devolution from a high profile TV star to a woman in search of the truth, Eastwood uses a slow hand, taking time to look at her work and implosive relationship with her boss. Much of the dialogue in the first part of the film, shot in France, is exclusively in French, adding to the sense of authenticity that has become synonymous with this Academy Award-winning director.

Cecile de France, an award-winning Belgian actress, delivers a haunting performance as a woman tormented by the question of what happens in the hereafter. She is pitch-perfect, showcasing an inner resolve, juxtaposed by an incredible vulnerability and deserves the accolades she has received for her performance. Damon, too, is impressive, playing his character in a quietly understated way. Bryce Dallas Howard turns in a fine performance as Damon's girlfriend, devastated by the secrets she has been harboring and which he ultimately exposes.

Less of a supernatural thriller than a spiritual soul searcher, this movie, magnificently conceptualized, may find its detractors in those who feel the slow pace works to its' detriment. But for those who are fans of Eastwood's worldview and characters that oftentimes are affected by their own mortality, this film is on the mark.

It will make you marvel at the vision of this Hollywood legend and his ability to explore, here and now and without judgment, what comes hereafter.

In the video below, the stars talk about the movie and how it was filmed.