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HEREAFTER (2010) (***1/2)

For this film, 80-year-old Clint Eastwood looks at death. Based on a script from Peter Morgan (FROST/NIXON), the film weaves together three different experiences with death — a near death experience, the loss of a loved one and a metaphysical look at the issue. Each is told on a haunting emotional level. No matter what your own personal beliefs are about the afterlife, this film actually reinforces the most important part of life.

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For this film, 80-year-old Clint Eastwood looks at death. Based on a script from Peter Morgan (FROST/NIXON), the film weaves together three different experiences with death — a near death experience, the loss of a loved one and a metaphysical look at the issue. Each is told on a haunting emotional level. No matter what your own personal beliefs are about the afterlife, this film actually reinforces the most important part of life.

Marie LeLay (Cecile De France, HIGH TENSION) is a famous French newscaster. On vacation with her boyfriend/producer Didier (Thierry Neuvic, TELL NO ONE), she goes out to a street market to buy gifts and is swept away as a sudden tsunami strikes. She is pulled from the water, but not before experiencing the classic near death experience of the bright white light and sense of weightlessness.

George Lonegan (Matt Damon, INVICTUS) is a famed real-deal psychic who has given up his career doing readings to work at a factory. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr, JERRY MAGUIRE) thinks he's nuts to not exploit his genuine gift. George knows that it's not a gift knowing everything about the death that has touched others. He takes a cooking class to meet new people and gets paired up with flirtatious Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard, THE VILLAGE).

Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) are twin tween brothers. Jason is the older one by 12 minutes. Marcus relies on him for everything. Jason is the one who knows exactly what to do when social workers show up at the door with their mother Jackie (Lyndsey Marshall, THE HOURS) passed out in bed after a night of binging. So how will Marcus survive after his brother is killed in a horrible accident?

Each of the characters deals with their experiences in different ways due to the nature of the experiences. Marie is shaken and distracted when she returns to work. Didier suggests that she take some time off, possibly work on the book she has long wanted to do. But her near death experience consumes her and she looks for proof to explain what happened to her. George tries to hide his ability, but it always has a way of coming back to plague him. How do you meet new people when you can see their deepest secrets just by touching their hands? Marcus is put in a foster home where he shuts down emotionally, He looks to religion for answers and then to psychics, all of which are simply scam artists exploiting people at their darkest moments.

Eastwood's direction and Morgan's script economically develop the characters and find the right emotional moments to deal with their existential issues. The tidal wave sequence that starts the film is an amazing hook that grabs the audience's attention and puts the viewer in the middle of the terrifying event. The cooking class scenes between Damon and Howard are sweet and romantic. The two actors bring vulnerability and spirit to their performances. Damon is quiet and gentle, while Howard is vivacious and direct. She is the standout in the film. Forget 9 1/2 WEEKS, this film has a truly sensual food feeding scene. Marcus' journey is heartbreaking, because we know on a gut level from how Jason handles the episode with his mother and the social workers just how lost Marcus is without him.

The film's stance on the afterlife is a hope of something after death. It brings in science as a possible explanation to the supernatural elements. Because George is an exception as a real psychic, the film never justifies those that prey on the vulnerable to make money. He gave up being a paid psychic because it was making living impossible. This section of the film works as a "what if." It's hard to get to know someone naturally when you can know them in a second. For Marie, she is simply looking for answers and wants to talk about her experiences, but hits roadblocks in the mainstream. While many people believe in an afterlife, they are afraid to talk about it frankly without feeling awkward.

The end wonderfully and unexpectedly brings the three storylines together. It hints at how the three characters will meet and builds nice anticipation for it. George could really help Marcus, but will he be willing to do so? What would George see if he touched someone who has experienced death first hand? The three are like kindred spirits adrift in the world, looking for answers and each other. It's the people that we share common bonds with that make life worth living.

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Rick DeMott
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