That Clint Eastwood is one of the cinema's most outstanding living directors there can be no doubt after seeing "Hereafter."
Put aside the multiple Oscar nominations that are sure to come. "Hereafter" is profoundly invigorating. It is cinema of the highest caliber by a master film-maker.
Eastwood, working from an original screenplay by Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon," "The Last King of Scotland," "The Queen," "The Other Boylen Girl") meets the challenge of successfully juggling and advancing three parallel story lines.
There is Marie (Cecile De France), a Paris television journalist who survives a near-death experience after a South Seas island Tsunami.
There is Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a London boy taken in by foster parents after his twin brother dies and his drug- and alcohol-addled mother enters rehab.
There is George (Matt Damon), a "reader" who abandons peering into others' past and future lives, despite the insistence of his brother (Jay Mohr), to work as a forklift operator on the San Francisco docks.
You wonder where the paths of these three seemingly disparate story elements will lead and how they might interweave, but coalesce they do in a magnificent, life-affirming and satisfying conclusion. At its heart, "Hereafter" is a love story.
Production designer James J. Murakami ("Unforgiven") gives the film a look that is nearly black and white through predominant use of blues and grays.
Director of photography Tom Stern ("Gran Torino," "Mystic River") keeps a firm hand on the camera, using traditional scene establishment shots and composition.
Eastwood wrote an elegant piano score, backed by strings, that fills in the emotions in scenes where no words are needed.
Matt Damon's square-jawed, troubled and handsome face registers a deep well of unfulfilled yearning. His body language and work shirts convey the labor of love that is his gift and burden.
De France, a gap-toothed, transcendent beauty, has the urgency of an actor of Hollywood's studio days.
McLaren is so sad-eyed, like a young Pete Townshend of The Who rock band.
There are fine, key supporting performances from Mohr, Richard Kind, Derek Jacobi and Bryce Dallas Howard.
"Hereafter" provides no easy answers to life's great question, but offers this: Don't wait for the sweet hereafter. The sweet hereafter is here and now.
"Hereafter": MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language; Genre: Drama, Fantasy; Run time: 2 hr., 9 min.; English, French (with English subtitles); Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "Hereafter" was filmed on location in London, Paris, and Maui, Hawaii.
Box Office, Oct. 22: "Paranormal Activity 2" scared up $41.5 million to open at No. 1, with the highest-gross opening weekend for a supernatural horror movie.
2. "Jackass 3D," $21.6 million, $87.1 million, two weeks; 3. "Red," $15 million, $43.4 million, two weeks; 4. "Hereafter," $12 million, $12.3 million, two weeks; 5. "The Social Network" $7.3 million, $72.9 million, four weeks; 6. "Secretariat," $6.9 million, $37.3 million, three weeks; 7. "Life As We Know It," $6.1 million, $37.6 million, three weeks; 8. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga-Hoole," $3.1 million, $50.1 million, five weeks; 9. "The Town," $2.7 million, $84.6 million, six weeks; 10. "Easy A," $1.7 million, $54.6 million, six weeks
Unreel, Oct. 29:
"Saw 3D," Rated R: So, the Jigsaw survivors get back together and ... well, you get the picture.
Hear Paul Willistein's movie reviews on Lehigh Valley Arts Salon, 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, www.wdiy.org , Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio. Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline.com . Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein @tnonline.com and on Facebook.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes