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Movie Review: <em> Hereafter </em>

By Bill Wine, KYW Newsradio

"It's not a gift. It's a curse."

So says George -- not once but twice -- the reluctant but legitimate psychic played by Matt Damon (above right) in director Clint Eastwood's life-after-death fantasy, Hereafter.

He's referring to his ability to commune with the deceased by touching the hands of those who've lost loved ones.

He hates this calling with a passion, which is why he bolts from San Francisco, leaving behind a job driving a factory forklift, as well as a potential girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard, above left) and his entreprenurial brother (Jay Mohr).

His is one of three here-and-now stories of people in Hereafter's fragmented, metaphysical, globe-trotting scenario who are touched by death and whose destinies will eventually intertwine.

Marie, played by Cecile de France, is a French broadcast journalist based in Paris but on vacation in the South Pacific who glimpses the beyond during an unnerving near-death experience during the raging Indonesian tsunami of 2004. Shaken and ineluctably changed by the frightening experience, she gives up her television career to write a book about a conspiracy to hide the afterlife.

Meanwhile, in London, a schoolboy named Marcus misses his identical twin brother Jason (they're played by twins George and Frankie McLaren), who was killed when he was hit by a car, leaving his brother to cope with a drug-addicted mom and a new foster home.

Each of the geographically separated triumvirate deals with tragedy, copes with loss, grapples with mortality, and searches for answers.

This departure from his recent projects is the 31st feature from the prolific and accomplished Eastwood (Invictus, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven, Flags of Our Fathers), who also produced and composed the musical score.

As a recent octogenarian, Eastwood contines to make our day by remaining intent on defying generic expectations, not repeating himself, and, this time out, examining the human condition from yet another vantage point: a paranormal one.

He starts off with a grabber of an opening, the CGI-boosted tsunami sequence, then takes a subdued, unhurried, unpredictable approach to the meditative material -- one that demands but rewards our patience -- as he cuts back and forth among the three story threads, then finishes up with an understated conclusion that most will find moving but some might see as overly coincidence-laden.

The speculative, multi-perspective screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland) -- who also served as one of the executive producers, as did Steven Spielberg -- doesn't exactly hypothesize about what happens after death as much as it explores grief and faith, and death as a part of life -- and love.

Because of the shifting-point-of-view structure of the film, our emotional investment is somewhat compromised or scattered -- although Damon's natural style and immediate likability go a long way -- but not to the degree that we stop appreciating the makers' intent or ambitiousness or achievement.

So we'll cross over 3 stars out of 4 for a thoughtful, stately, genuinely life-affirming supernatural drama. After watching Clint Eastwood's haunting Hereafter, we say:  "Hear, hear!"

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