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Home  Eastwood and Damon tackle mortality in 'Hereafter'
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Monday, October 18,2010

Eastwood and Damon tackle mortality in 'Hereafter'

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Dirty Harry Callahan would have taken one long, hard, squinty look at "Hereafter," curled his mouth into a grimace of utter incomprehension, and muttered, "You're not making my day." The afterlife, after all, wasn't a place Harry seemed to think a lot about, except as a destination for those on the business end of his .44 Magnum.

But Harry was then. "Hereafter" — Clint Eastwood's 31st feature as a director, a story about clairvoyance and spirituality — is most definitely now. The movie is a departure for Eastwood. But it makes a certain amount of sense, given how closely the course of Eastwood's career as a director has mirrored the man's maturation as a progressively reflective and morally generous artist.

While his early movies were synonymous with violence and law-and-order-style moral indignation — the very qualities that made "High Plains Drifter," "Sudden Impact," "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Pale Rider" such guilty pleasures — the movies that will more likely comprise his lasting legacy decidedly lean the other way: "Unforgiven" (1992), which won him his first Academy Award as best director (and for best picture) was, for all the gunplay, a renunciation of violence, a revisionist Western in every sense. "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) flipped the trademark Eastwood machismo on its head, with a tale of a woman boxer (Hilary Swank) and an old-style trainer who gets an education in gender equality. It, too, won multiple Oscars, for the director, the picture, Swank and best supporting actor Morgan Freeman.

So the idea that Eastwood would be contemplating mortality midway through his 80th year, and doing it on screen, isn't a surprise at all.

Like Eastwood regular Freeman, with whom he starred in 2009's "Invictus," Matt Damon has returned to the director's fold in "Hereafter." In it, he plays George Lonegan, who is "cursed" with the ability to communicate with those who've departed for the Great Beyond. While his more craven brother (Jay Mohr) encourages George to make money with his gift, George wants to put it all behind him. But like it or not, he can't escape his destiny, or the needs of grieving people with whom he comes in contact.

"I just imagined George as someone with a really rich inner life, but who was just achingly lonely," Damon said in a recent interview. "But that's all the stuff Peter did in the script. And having worked with Clint, I know how closely he adheres to the script, so I just sort of treated it like a play and showed up ready to go."

"Peter" is Peter Morgan, whose screenplays for "The Queen," "The Last King of Scotland," "Frost/Nixon" and "The Damned United" have made him one of the more in-demand screenwriters in the business. It was Morgan's story, Damon said, that got Eastwood intrigued.

"The script was really so well put together and so well-conceived, it really did a lot of my work for me," the actor said. "And yeah, it's certainly different from anything Clint's done, but I think at his level he just responds to scripts he really likes. And he's just so versatile he can really do anything. He just likes to tell stories, and this is a really good story."

It's a triptych, of sorts (and thus decidedly un-Eastwood). While Lonegan is coping with his demons (and angels), French celebrity-TV journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile de France) is trying to recover from survival. Her South Pacific vacation, interrupted by a tsunami, has left her with deep, disturbing questions about the nature of mortality. (The Big Wave sequence that Marie endures seems to mark Eastwood's debut as a special-effects director). Meanwhile, in London, young Marcus (George and Frankie McLaren) has lost his beloved twin brother, and relentlessly pursues answers, running a gauntlet of spiritual hucksters, scam artists and crackpots, en route to Lonegan.

It was the parallel narratives, so unusual for the director, that actually allowed Damon to be in the film. "I shot after everybody else," the actor said. "I couldn't do the movie at first because I was working on 'The Adjustment Bureau' (which comes out in March), but Clint sort of put the movie on hiatus over the Christmas break. He'd wanted to shoot in the fall, but I wasn't available till January, so he shot the other two stories and then I did mine."

So did he still feel like the star of the movie? "Yeah," Damon said. "It was just a much shorter movie."

"Hereafter," as intended, will have audiences questioning their own beliefs — about immortality, heaven, religion, pseudo-religion, the dying of the flesh and the dying of the light. It's not as if there are any answers, of course, even for someone in the film.

"I'm certainly someone who hopes the light just doesn't go off," Damon said, then laughed. "We'll see, I guess."

———

NO LONGER 'DIRTY'... THE PHILOSOPHICAL EASTWOOD

Back in the old "make-my-day" days, Clint Eastwood's directorial efforts were often classified as Cro-Magnon. But there has been a very evident evolution, as Eastwood has grown, with age, increasingly philosophical.

"Sudden Impact" (1983) — The movie that gave America (and its president, Ronald Reagan) the line, "Go ahead ... make my day," saw Eastwood return to the role he'd already played for three different directors in three different movies — "Dirty Harry" (1971), "Magnum Force" (1973) and "The Enforcer" (1976). But with Eastwood at the helm, Inspector Harry Callahan received newfound depth, and the nature of crime became much more complex.

"Bird" (1988) — It was Eastwood the piano player's personal love of jazz that sparked this biopic (starring Forest Whitaker) about self-destructive saxophone genius Charlie Parker. But it also sent Eastwood the director into an all-new genre, and aspects of the American story he'd never previously visited.

"A Perfect World" (1993) — Perhaps the underrated Eastwood movie, it starred Kevin Costner in probably his best performance, as an on-the-lam criminal who kidnaps and befriends a lonely young boy, while eluding a standup U.S. marshal (Eastwood himself). Unlike the vile criminal perpetrators of earlier Eastwood movies, Costner's character is made supremely human, and becomes a genuine figure of tragedy.

"Mystic River" (2003) — At 73, Eastwood showed he was still growing as an auteur, imbuing this Brian Helgeland-scripted film (from the Dennis Lehane novel) with subtleties and nuances not seen before in his work. Both Sean Penn and Tim Robbins won Oscars for a film that dredged up troubling questions about the fates we choose, and the destinies thrust upon us.

"Letters From Iwo Jima" (2006) — While once considered the poster boy for an almost John Wayne-ish Americana, Eastwood told this story of the battle of Iwo Jima invasion from the Japanese perspective, eclipsing his own Americanized version of the same war story, "Flags of Our Fathers."

———

(c) 2010, Newsday.

Visit Newsday online at http://www.newsday.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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