CLINT Eastwood may be approaching his 80th birthday, but the imposing actor-turned director shows no signs of relinquishing his seat behind the camera.
Since 2003, he has released roughly one film every year, winning critical kudos and countless awards for such dazzling humanist dramas as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags Of Our Fathers, Changeling, Gran Torino and Invictus.
Eastwood confounds our expectations with this deeply moving tale of loneliness and abandonment, based on a screenplay by Peter Morgan, whose own mantelpiece is crammed with trophies for The Last King Of Scotland, The Queen and Frost/Nixon.
Opening with a jaw-dropping tsunami sequence tearing through a small beach town in Indonesia, Hereafter gradually draws together three seemingly unconnected stories and poses tantalising questions about mortality.
Like the director’s earlier films, characters are observed up close, but never judged for their occasionally hurtful actions, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about their conduct and the underlying themes.
French television anchorwoman Marie Lelay (Cecile de France) is on holiday in south-east Asia with her boyfriend Didier (Thierry Neuvic) when Mother Nature unleashes her fury upon the community.
Marie is knocked unconscious and almost drowns in the deluge, glimpsing bright white light and blurred figures before she is resuscitated.
In San Francisco, psychic medium George Lonegan (Matt Damon) turns his back on his so-called gift, which he views as a curse.
“A life that’s all about death is no life at all,” laments George, who takes a cookery course where he meets new girl in town, Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard).
Across the Atlantic in London, Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren) fend for themselves on a working class housing estate while their drug-addict mother (Lyndsey Marshal) wrestles with her demons.
When an accident on the streets tears the family apart, Marcus searches for respite from his grief.
Hereafter brings together the main characters for the briefest of moments, before their paths diverge again.
Performances are exemplary across the board, from Damon’s loner and De France’s haunted political journalist to the McLaren twins, who capture the stoicism of frightened little boys – just one telephone call away from foster care.
Eastwood directs with flair, opening with that dramatic action sequence that brings back uncomfortable memories of the 2004 tsunami, before another sensitively handled set piece that draws comparisons with the 2005 London underground bombings.
Audiences who expect to be led to clear-cut, satisfying conclusions will be left foundering because the film doesn’t pretend to have the answers.
Like the characters, we consider our own belief systems and ponder the possibilities that confound and divide even the most brilliant scientific minds.
Live for the present before it is too late.