Is America's last cowboy icon prospecting for more Oscar gold? Taking for his map an original screenplay by British docu-dramatist Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), Clint Eastwood rides a sleepy burro deep into Iñárritu territory. Multiple story lines cross international borders to mix personal tragedy with post-9/11 existential terror. Hereafter peaks five minutes in, as a frugally staged tsunami arrives on a bright blue morning to trash some paradisiacal Pacific island beach. What follows is a lugubrious tale of wonderment: An attractive French telejournalist (Cécile de France) parses her near-death experience in Hawaii while a painfully cute 12-year-old British schoolboy (George McLaren) with a substance-abusing mum suffers a terrible loss and a depressed, Dickens-loving psychic named George (Matt Damon, always game) wrestles with his occult power to read minds and channel the dead. The irrationality of the premise is exceeded only by the strategic irrationalities of the plot. Clumsily self-inoculating against the charge of spiritual baloney-ism, the movie introduces a formerly atheist scientist (Marthe Keller) amassing anecdotal proof of life after death. "The evidence is irrefutable," she assures the telejournalist while hinting darkly that an ill-defined religious conspiracy is preventing the happy news from reaching the rest of the planet. Hereafter is not just a stretch for Eastwood, it's a contortion.
Damon as the unhappy ghost whisperer.
Opens at Kirkland Parkplace and other theaters, Fri., Oct. 22. Rated PG-13. 129 minutes.