Listening to Clint Eastwood talk about his latest film, Hereafter, one gets the impression that the director views this one as a bit of a departure. Speaking to the UK's Telegraph, Eastwood called this his "French" film, which is only partly true on a literal level—about a third of the movie is set in France, and in the French language—but is a reasonable enough way to summarize its comparatively artsy feel, as well as its structure of three initially unrelated but eventually intersecting stories. He's also called this his "chick flick," which is, again, an exaggeration, but only a slight one; by Eastwood standards, there's very little violence here, and a larger-than-usual role for romance.
Fair enough. Hereafter is, in many ways, a different sort of movie from any of Eastwood's previous. And yet, in other ways, it's not so different at all.
Eastwood the director has been obsessed with human mortality at least since 1992's Unforgiven. Now 80, Eastwood is more prolific than ever, and much of his career as a filmmaker has been spent toiling in the shadow of death. Is it a natural reaction to his age and his long, storied career—or is he simply drawn to the subject in the same way Scorsese is drawn to the causes and ramifications of violence? Tough to say. There's little denying it, though: His thriller Blood Work had human frailty as its core, Space Cowboys was all about old men playing a young man's game, Million Dollar Baby had an ominous undertow from the first frame, and Gran Torino had Eastwood himself playing a man who knew he was in his last days. And oh yeah, he made a pair of World War II movies.
Some of these films are pretty terrific, some not so much; taken together, though, they make for an interesting, running discussion about death and what it means. Hereafter is no different—in fact, it addresses dying and the afterlife as directly as any film Eastwood's ever made. Don't let its directness fool you, though; Eastwood's film seems to think it's confronting these issues head-on, but really is mostly avoids them altogether.
The plot is a three-way split. In the first story, a French journalist (Cecile De France) has a near-death experience when she is swept under the waves of a tsunami, her survival something of a miracle. She has a vision of the afterlife, and what she sees shakes her to the core—enough so that she essentially throws her career down the tubes in order to write an investigative book about, well, the hereafter. This is the least eventful of the three stories, and yet it might also be the most engaging, if only because of the superbly sympathetic performance from De France.
In story two, Matt Damon stars as psychic who can communicate with dead spirits simply by touching another human being. This is more of a curse than a blessing, something he spells out explicitly and which we see firsthand when he strikes up a charmingly bumbling romance with a virtual stranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) and makes the mistake of giving her a "reading."