By Jeff Jensen
Updated September 14, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

The prospect of a new movie directed by Clint Eastwood usually fills me with excitement. The prospect of a new movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon? Doubly excited. So why does the trailer for their new collaboration Hereafter leave me a bit hesitant? Damon plays a sad-eyed psychic who is looking to put his “I speak with dead people” past behind him. The first half of trailer seems to suggest a movie in which a number of characters grappling with grief and mortality will seek out Damon’s psychic, hoping he can help them find closure. Or something like that. I’m not sure; I just know it all looks really dramatic and atmospheric and thematically rich…and then a tsunami hits. Tsunami say-wha? I have no idea what a wave of water smashing and trashing a tropical resort village has to do with the Good Will Mindscanning stuff — Damon is nowhere to be seen in this footage — but the sudden shift in tone is jarring. One minute, Hereafter seems to be Eastwood channeling his inner M. Night Shyamalan thing — and then everything goes Roland Emmerich/catastrophe flick-ish.

From what I can glean from some early reviews of the film, which screened last weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival, the tsunami that is featured in Hereafter is indeed an F/X generated simulation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that pounded Indonesia. You wouldn’t know that from the trailer itself; the catastrophe is one of several Really Awful Things teased in the closing portion of the trailer.

By several accounts, Eastwood has made a very respectable movie, one that could figure into the year’s Oscar race. I haven’t found any reviews criticizing the movie for making use of real catastrophe in a fiction film that seems to be about pondering the significance of our belief — and disbelief — in the afterlife. I’m not the kind of guy who would ever argue “it’s too soon” to tell stories inspired by tragedy, recent or distant. In fact, I want and need our best artists wrestling with the here-and-now and producing ideas that can help me think and make decisions about my experience of the world.

Still, I can’t deny I had an unpleasant visceral experience seeing the tsunami in the Hereafter trailer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; being made to feel profoundly uncomfortable can actually make for a rewarding cinematic experience. Then again, the same unpleasant feeling I got from the tsunami portion of the Hereafter trailer is the same one I got from the commercials and trailers for Emmerich’s 2012, and because of that feeling, I decided not to buy a ticket. I just didn’t trust that the film’s quality was worthy of its subject matter or that it had anything meaningful to say to me.

Eastwood has more than earned my trust over the years — but I’m still uncertain. And anyway, I see enough real natural disaster on the news; why do I need to see it faked and magnified for fun on the big screen? My guess is that Eastwood’s movie has more on its mind than the usual disaster flick — but I think I’ll need critics and opening weekend buzz/feedback to convince me of that before finding out for myself.

Your thoughts, Popwatchers? Does the Hereafter trailer grab you? Did the tsunami footage bother you or at least jar you? And what’s the proper span of time between real-life tragedy and Hollywood depictions of it?