Grave is­sues

Clint East­wood and Matt Da­mon tackle mor­tal­ity in

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By JOHN AN­DER­SON

DIRTY Harry Cal­la­han would have taken one long, hard, squinty look at Here­after, curled his mouth into a gri­mace of ut­ter in­com­pre­hen­sion, and mut­tered: “You’re not mak­ing my day.” The af­ter­life, af­ter all, wasn’t a place Harry seemed to think a lot about, ex­cept as a des­ti­na­tion for those on the busi­ness end of his .44 Mag­num.

But Harry was then. Here­after – Clint East­wood’s 31st fea­ture as a di­rec­tor, a story about clair­voy­ance and spir­i­tu­al­ity – is most def­i­nitely now. The movie is a de­par­ture for East­wood. But it makes a cer­tain amount of sense, given how closely the course of East­wood’s ca­reer as a di­rec­tor has mir­rored the man’s mat­u­ra­tion as a pro­gres­sively re­flec­tive and morally gen­er­ous artiste.

While his early movies were syn­ony­mous with vi­o­lence and law-and-or­der-style moral in­dig­na­tion – the very qual­i­ties that made High Plains Drifter, Sud­den Im­pact, The Out­law Josey Wales and Pale Rider such guilty plea­sures – the movies that will more likely com­prise his last­ing legacy de­cid­edly lean the other way: Un­for­given (1992), which won him his first Academy Award as best di­rec­tor (and for best pic­ture) was, for all the gun­play, a re­nun­ci­a­tion of vi­o­lence, a re­vi­sion­ist Western in ev­ery sense.

Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby (2004) flipped the trade­mark East­wood machismo on its head, with a tale of a woman boxer (Hi­lary Swank) and an old-style trainer who gets an ed­u­ca­tion in gen­der equal­ity. It, too, won mul­ti­ple Os­cars, for the di­rec­tor, the pic­ture, Swank and best sup­port­ing ac­tor Mor­gan Free­man.

So the idea that East­wood would be con­tem­plat­ing mor­tal­ity mid­way through his 80th year, and do­ing it on screen, isn’t a sur­prise at all.

Like East­wood reg­u­lar Free­man, with whom he starred in 2009’s In­vic­tus, Matt Da­mon has re­turned to the di­rec­tor’s fold in Here­after.

stars Matt Da­mon as Ge­orge Lone­gan who can com­mu­ni­cate with the dead. It also stars Bryce Dal­las Howard (left).

In it, he plays Ge­orge Lone­gan, who is “cursed” with the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with those who’ve de­parted for the Great Be­yond.

While his more craven brother (Jay Mohr) en­cour­ages Ge­orge to make money with his gift, Ge­orge wants to put it all be­hind him. But like it or not, he can’t es­cape his destiny, or the needs of griev­ing peo­ple with whom he comes in con­tact.

“I just imag­ined Ge­orge as some­one with a re­ally rich in­ner life, but who was just achingly lonely,” Da­mon said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “But that’s all the stuff Peter did in the script. And hav­ing worked with Clint, I know how closely he ad­heres to the script, so I just sort of treated it like a play and showed up ready to go.”

“Peter” is Peter Mor­gan, whose screen­plays for The Queen, The Last King Of Scot­land, Frost/Nixon and The Damned United have made him one of the more in­de­mand screen­writ­ers in the busi­ness. It was Mor­gan’s story, Da­mon said, that got East­wood in­trigued.

“The script was re­ally so well put to­gether and so well­con­ceived, it re­ally did a lot of my work for me,” the ac­tor said. “And yeah, it’s cer­tainly dif­fer­ent from any­thing Clint’s done, but I think at his level he just re­sponds to scripts he re­ally likes. And he’s just so ver­sa­tile he can re­ally do any­thing. He just likes to tell sto­ries, and this is a re­ally good story.”

It’s a trip­tych, of sorts (and thus de­cid­edly un-East­wood). While Lone­gan is cop­ing with his demons (and an­gels), French celebrity-TV jour­nal­ist Marie Le­Lay (Ce­cile de France) is try­ing to re­cover from sur­vival. Her South Pa­cific vacation, in­ter­rupted by a tsunami, has left her with deep, dis­turb­ing ques­tions about the na­ture of mor­tal­ity. (The Big Wave se­quence that Marie en­dures seems to mark East­wood’s de­but as a spe­cial-ef­fects di­rec­tor).

Mean­while, in London, young Mar­cus (Ge­orge and Frankie McLaren) has lost his beloved twin brother, and re­lent­lessly pur­sues an­swers, run­ning a gaunt­let of spir­i­tual huck­sters, scam artists and crack­pots, en route to Lone­gan.

It was the par­al­lel nar­ra­tives, so un­usual for the di­rec­tor, that ac­tu­ally al­lowed Da­mon to be in the film.

“I shot af­ter ev­ery­body else,” the ac­tor said. “I couldn’t do the movie at first be­cause I was work­ing on The Ad­just­ment Bureau (which comes out in March), but Clint sort of put the movie on hia­tus over the Christ­mas break. He’d wanted to shoot in the fall, but I wasn’t avail­able till Jan­uary, so he shot the other two sto­ries and then I did mine.”

So did he still feel like the star of the movie? “Yeah,” Da­mon said. “It was just a much shorter movie.”

Here­after, as in­tended, will have au­di­ences ques­tion­ing their own be­liefs – about im­mor­tal­ity, heaven, re­li­gion, pseudo-re­li­gion, the dy­ing of the flesh and the dy­ing of the light. It’s not as if there are any an­swers, of course, even for some­one in the film.

“I’m cer­tainly some­one who hopes the light just doesn’t go off,” Da­mon said, then laughed. “We’ll see, I guess.”

Back in the old “make-my-day” days, East­wood’s di­rec­to­rial ef­forts were of­ten clas­si­fied as Cro-Magnon. But there has been a very ev­i­dent evo­lu­tion, as East­wood has grown, with age, in­creas­ingly philo­soph­i­cal.

> Sud­den Im­pact (1983): The movie that gave Amer­ica (and its pres­i­dent, Ron­ald Rea­gan) the line, “Go ahead ... make my day”, saw East­wood re­turn to the role he’d al­ready played for three dif­fer­ent di­rec­tors in three dif­fer­ent movies – Dirty Harry (1971), Mag­num Force (1973) and The En­forcer (1976). But with East­wood at the helm, In­spec­tor Harry Cal­la­han re­ceived new­found depth, and the na­ture of crime be­came much more com­plex.

> Bird (1988): It was East­wood the pi­ano player’s per­sonal love of jazz that sparked this biopic (star­ring For­est Whi­taker) about self­de­struc­tive sax­o­phone ge­nius Char­lie Parker. But it also sent East­wood the di­rec­tor into an all-new genre, and as­pects of the Amer­i­can story he’d never pre­vi­ously vis­ited.

> A Per­fect World (1993): Per­haps the un­der­rated East­wood movie, it starred Kevin Cost­ner in prob­a­bly his best per­for­mance, as an on-the-lam crim­i­nal who kid­naps and be­friends a lonely young boy, while elud­ing a standup US mar­shal (East­wood him­self). Un­like the vile crim­i­nal per­pe­tra­tors of ear­lier East­wood movies, Cost­ner’s char­ac­ter is made supremely hu­man, and be­comes a gen­uine fig­ure of tragedy.

> Mys­tic River (2003): At 73, East­wood showed he was still grow­ing as an au­teur, im­bu­ing this Brian Hel­ge­land-scripted film (from the Den­nis Le­hane novel) with sub­tleties and nu­ances not seen be­fore in his work. Both Sean Penn and Tim Rob­bins won Os­cars for a film that dredged up trou­bling ques­tions about the fates we choose, and the des­tinies thrust upon us.

> Letters From Iwo Jima (2006): While once con­sid­ered the poster boy for an al­most John Wayne-ish Amer­i­cana, East­wood told this story of the bat­tle of Iwo Jima in­va­sion from the Ja­panese per­spec­tive, eclips­ing his own Amer­i­can­ised ver­sion of the same war story, Flags Of Our Fa­thers. – News­day/McClatchyTri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices n Here­after opens in Malaysian cine­mas on Jan 20, 2011.

Mor­tal­ity mus­ings: Here­after

Clint East­wood’s film­mak­ing has grown in­creas­ingly philo­soph­i­cal.

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