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With 'Hereafter,' Clint Eastwood contemplates what's next

The director's 32nd feature film, which will screen at the Toronto film fest, looks at people who have touched the other side of death.

September 09, 2010|By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

The movie also has a big, harrowing special-effects scene early on and reserves its third act for something far less bombastic. That resists the usual physics of Hollywood moviemaking, and executive producer Steven Spielberg talked to Morgan about that decision early on as potential concern. The screenwriter, interviewed this week by phone in London, said he wrote a different ending that would have a grander scale. Everyone agreed, though, that in the final analysis, "Hereafter" was going to keep its unconventional contours.

More importantly, according to Damon, Eastwood already had made up his mind that the structure was just fine as it was. The actor, talking by phone Tuesday from New York, said Eastwood's movies — such as "Gran Torino" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" — are clearly not cookie-cutter endeavors.

"The classic thinking is you can't peter out in your third act, you have to go bigger, and the other classic Hollywood thinking is that all the questions have to be answered," Damon said. "'Is it clear enough? I don't want an 8-year-old to come see this and not know what's going on.' With Clint, his process is free of all that grist mill. He can do something that has a different shape. It wouldn't occur to him to have a giant set piece in the third act because, well, this story doesn't require it."

Damon, in a cheeky moment, referred to the new movie as "Clint Eastwood's French film" and Eastwood himself has appraised the movie as a spiritual "chick flick."

The 39-year-old Damon and the elder filmmaker have a strong mutual admiration society going after working together on "Invictus," and Eastwood juggled the "Hereafter" filming schedule to shoehorn the project into the actor's tight schedule. Damon plays George Lonegan, who has an everyman aura but also a singular problem. As a child, he died and came back on the operating table and returned with a "gift" — he can converse with the restive spirits of the dead who have not moved on. The connection is made when he touches a living person and essentially dials up their dearly departed. The visions aren't the horror-show sort from "The Sixth Sense" — this film's séance soul is more like a lonely-heart undertaker who wearies of the hungry grief of the living.

"Matt is a gem to work with," Eastwood said. "A lot of guys will count sides [the pages in the script] and look at something like this and say, 'Well, there's three stories and I'm only in one of them.' He saw the value of the overall project and he's a writer and he really liked the story. I like the character — he has this knack but he can't stand it. He's reticent and he doesn't want to connect with the dead and he can't connect with the living."

Eastwood said he feels a strong sense of satisfaction with this film, and the people around him seem excited and anxious about the movie. Whether it connects with a wide audience (or Academy Award voters) "Hereafter" veers away from soft-glow answers or maudlin moments. Eastwood is no greeting-card messenger nor is he an adamant apostle.

"People ask me what I believe," Eastwood said as he watched sheep meander across the rustic hotel's pasture. "I say, 'I don't know yet.' I'm not closed off to it. There are points in my life when I thought I knew all the answers and other times when I was sure I didn't know any of them. Right now, well, I'm waiting to see. Aren't we all?"

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