TORONTO (Reuters) - After 50 years in the movie business, Clint Eastwood is nothing if not unexpected.
But his much-anticipated supernatural new movie "Hereafter" about near death experiences is a dramatic departure from his intimate 2004 Oscar winner "Million Dollar Baby" or the actor's grumpy widower in "Gran Torino."
"Hereafter", which combines the visuals of a Hollywood blockbuster and the intimacy of an European art film, got its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.
Opening with startling scenes of a tsunami roaring through a holiday resort, the movie portrays the lives of three people living in London, Paris and San Francisco that ultimately converge.
Matt Damon plays George, a blue-collar worker trying to cope with his unusual gift -- a connection to the afterlife. Cecile De France is Marie, a French television journalist who writes a book about a traumatic personal event, and Frankie McLaren plays Marcus, a young boy adrift after a great loss.
Eastwood directs from a screenplay written by Peter Morgan, who also departs from the political focus seen in his recent works "Frost/Nixon" and "The Queen".
"Hereafter" is the ninth movie in as many years from the director who made his name playing cowboys in the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and who went on to become one of the most admired film makers in Hollywood.
Eastwood, now 80, said he hadn't given much thought to whether there is anything after death.
"Everybody has their own take on it," the Toronto Star quoting him as saying. "I haven't been there. I don't intend to go there before my time."
"Hereafter" opens in U.S. movie theaters on October 22.
Early reviews of Eastwood's new venture were mixed.
"Eastwood has made a film for sensitive, intelligent people who are naturally curious about what happens when the shutters close," Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his blog from Toronto.
But Variety called it "uneven but absorbing" and said Eastwood "moves into risky new territory with old-fashioned grace and sturdy classical filmmaking...it dances right on the edge of the ridiculous and at times even crosses over."
At the premiere screening, the audience was ecstatic to have the four-time Oscar winner at the Toronto festival for the first time in two decades.
"It's great to be back here in Toronto," Eastwood said as he went on stage to introduce the film.
Editing by Janet Guttsman and Jill Serjeant