Arnold is picking really interesting roles these days, but that does not a good movie make.
Holding on tightly to the screen heroes of my youth is something I have no shame about. We’ve got history together. Some of these actors have provided me many of my life’s most memorable cinematic moments. And regardless of the individual quality from picture to picture, I have to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-politics and post-family-scandal movie career is fascinating to behold. I stand alone on this island, but I adored The Last Stand, when he made his re-appearance as a leading man after leaving the governorship of California. It’s possible that I hated Sabotage, his team up director David Ayer… but I also can’t stop thinking about it. Then came Maggie, which was a tragic family drama that benefitted from its genre trappings to become a kind of indie zombie drama. With Aftermath, Arnold’s history as an on screen tough guy comes along with him to the screen. But his character Roman really isn’t any of the things we’ve come to expect from Arnold’s onscreen personas. Roman is an everyman dealing with a horrific tragedy from which he may never bounce back.
The trouble is… there just isn’t a lot of dimensionality to this story. Arnold manages to largely shed his baggage and he continually shows himself to be a better actor than he’s often given credit for. (Van Damme shares this trait). But Roman is a walking tragedy who lost his wife and pregnant adult daughter in a horrible midair plane collision. He’s a shell of a man after this, and the script from Javier Gullon (Enemy) leaves perhaps too much unsaid. It isn’t so much that the movie is subtle or sparing, it’s just that very little happens to raise it above a perfunctory level. Scoot McNairy does admirable work in a very unforgiving role as Jake, the air traffic controller who, through a series of unfortunate events, ends up being on duty when the two planes collide. There’s just enough detail shown to make Jake’s plight suitably grey. It isn’t incompetence or delinquency that cause the planes to crash, it’s a horrific “could’ve happened to anyone” kind of scenario. But that’s about as interesting as the human exploration gets in Aftermath.
Jake’s wife Christina is played by Maggie Grace, who is allowed to play a real adult here as opposed to in the Taken films, and she’s good. Christina has no idea how to be a spouse to a man who has been a part of such a tragedy as this. And no idea how to expose their son to this new reality. There’s a sense that Roman and Jake are on some kind of collision course (JUST LIKE THE AIRPLANES WERE), but even the shocking conclusion to this story doesn’t feel like it’s executed with the kind of weight and moral complexity that it seems director Elliott Lester (Blitz, Nightingale) was going for.
Yes, there remains a novelty factor to watching Arnold Schwarzenegger act, and act well, in a stripped down tragedy with no genre or action hero trappings whatsoever. He acquits himself well and seems to bring his own life of troubles with him in these latter performances. But this film is pretty relentlessly bleak without a whole lot to say about any of the proceedings. Tragedy sometimes strikes. Mistakes sometimes lead to inconceivably horrific results. People sometimes have trouble recovering from loss. All of these themes are presented right at the surface level of Aftermath, and never go any deeper. Without much in the way of beauty or complexity, Aftermath mostly just feels like a slog.
Aftermath has a director’s commentary with Lester and producer Eric Watson as well as some brief bonus features (interviews with Lester and DP Pieter Vermeer). I couldn’t make it all too far into the commentary as I found it about as insightful as the final film itself. Lester does bring some skill and flare to the table here, with lots of overhead “god’s eye” shots, coaxing a typically great performance out of Scoot McNairy, the completely INSANE shirts that Arnold’s character wears, and giving Arnold some of the meatiest dramatic work of his career. But even with a commentary and bonus features, Aftermath struggles to bring enough to the table to make it worth a purchase.
And I’m Out.
Aftermath is now available on home video from Lionsgate Premiere