Hereafter | Drama | rated PG-13 (A,V) | starring Cecile De France, Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard | written by Peter Morgan | directed by Clint Eastwood | 2:09 mins

When the wave from a Tsunami crashes onto the vacation spot of journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile De France, High Tension) she is swept under the water and dies, and then amazingly brought back to life. Meanwhile in America, George (Matt Damon), a once-famous psychic, tries to put his life together despite the curse of being able to actually communicate with the dead and his brother (Jay Mohr) encouraging him to turn it into a business. Meanwhile in England, two twin boys already helping their alcoholic mother dodge child protective services have their world shaken by a death.

From the tunnel of white light that blasted from a gun barrel in Mystic River to the heroic sacrifice of Gran Torino to the in-your-face, brutal reality of Changeling (easily my favorite), it’s clear that Clint Eastwood the filmmaker has had a poetic fascination with life’s mortality and what may lie beyond.  Hereafter is his epic tri-cornered opus of death in which he actually peeks over to the other side. But it’s just a peek, Eastwood’s vision of the afterlife is just barely beyond the proverbial white light – more tangible than some visions, more enigmatic than others.

For me the heart of the film lies in a mid-film conversation between LeLay and her lover discussing the afterlife. He claims that he doesn’t believe in it because nobody has come forward with evidence to which she attempts to write a book about what she calls the hereafter only to have it shot down by publishers and face discrimination by non-believers. Spanning America, France and England the movie effectively creates this unspoken impression of another dimension just beneath or beyond ours, that a few get glimpses of. It creates a believable story in which there is evidence of a hereafter and that these people are ignored and marginalized. The story behind the story in Hereafter is more compelling than the character drama on the screen.

Despite his top-billing, Matt Damon’s storyline is the least interesting of the group. We’ve seen the tortured psychic storyline before and the gifted actor is stuffed behind an emotionally stunted character. Bryce Dallas Howard shines as his partner in an adult education class but it’s the storylines of the twins and De France’s journey from reporter to spiritual author that carry the film emotionally (twins) and intellectually (De France).

Hereafter is constructed from Eastwood’s trademark meticulous visual style and pacing. The opening Tsunami disaster sequence is sensational and for a while here it looks like Eastwood has made his masterpiece. The characters and conflicts are set up richly with an attention to not just who they are but what kind of things do they like. But Hereafter is all set-up and no payoff. The movie starts out with a bang and slowly fizzles out, flattening into a piece of the usual melodrama by the 3rd act. Instead of flinging these characters along their own paths it contorts to force the stories together in a way that feels wholly unnatural. And it really didn’t need to. Enjoyable but anti-climactic. De France’s story could have propped the movie up on it’s own, or any of them fully realized, but as it Hereafter feels like a great first act of another movie.