2017, R, 92 mins.
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Roman / Maggie Grace as Christina / Kevin Zegers as John Gullick / Hannah Ware as Tessa / Scoot McNairy as Paul Bonanos
Directed by Elliott Lester / Written by Javier Gullón
Actors usually become substantially more compelling on screen as they grown older, wiser and reach the tail end of their careers.
Schwarzenegger is no exception, not because he wasn't an authoritative
screen presence in a multitude of his past films, but rather because now -
at a relatively ripe old age of 69 - he's beginning to tackle more subtle
and introverted parts that play up to his advancing years.
Gone are the days when Au-nald can plausibly play unstoppable chiseled
a commendable host of introspective roles during the last few years
(including the horribly underrated MAGGIE
and SABOTAGE), the Austrian actor is
looking to move outside of his obligatory comfort zone to take on
characters that are in stark contrast to his most iconic ones. For
the first time in his career, he's playing flawed, troubled and vulnerable
fact-based AFTERMATH is a perfect example of Schwarzenegger attempting to play
stripped down and spare roles that demystifies him as a cinematic action
film god. Instead of
embodying a man of swift Herculean physicality, in AFTERMATH he plays a
man emotionally broken down in life based on a hellish past trauma that
took his family away from him. Taking
inspiration from the Uberlingen mid-air collision of two planes that
occurred in the skies above the German town
in July of 2002 (and a rather tragic event that happened in its
wake years later), the film is on remarkably solid ground as a
performance showpiece for Schwarzenegger embodying a wounded man of
resentment filled inaction. Unfortunately,
AFTERMATH betrays its star's richly textured work by grounding him in a
confused, muddled, and haphazardly shapeless narrative that's hopelessly
disjointed at times, not to mention that everything builds towards one of
the most deeply unsatisfying endings that I've seen in a movie in many a
Make no mistake,
AFTERMATH has a positively riveting story to tell, but it awkwardly
struggles with finding a cohesive manner of unveiling it to viewers.
The opening sections, though, are dramatically strong as we are
thrust into the semi-fictionalized account of the aforementioned plane
collision, but before that we're introduced to a few key characters before the
hellish accident. The first
is construction worker Roman Melnik (Schwarzenegger), finishing his shift
early so that he can make it to the airport on time to pick up his wife and
daughter, both of whom are arriving on an incoming flight.
Upon his arrival at the airport Roman is greeted by some officials
and is given the traumatizing news that the plane his family was on
collided with another, killing everyone on board.
Predictably, Roman is devastated by the news and desperate for
some much needed answers as to how this could have happened.
It's at this
point when the film segues to another character and flashes back to the
past to provide an expository lead in to the aviation disaster.
We meet air traffic controller John Bonanos (Scoot McNairy), who's
journeying off to the airport to begin his day that, yes, led to a
serious miscalculation in judgment on his part that mournfully led to the
two planes crashing into one another.
Much like Roman (but in vastly different ways), John also deals
with penetrating grief as a result of what happened, but seeing as he's tied to the
accident and responsible for it, his level of anguish and mental turmoil
becomes almost incalculably huge. As a vast investigation mounts, John sees his home life and
overall mental well being diminish by the day.
Beyond this, the film flashes forward to the present and shows what
both John and Roman have done with their lives well after the accident and
how they have respectfully processed the loss of both of their families.
AFTERMATH is a
story of mutual shared grief over a single tragic event, with Roman being
affected by the death of his wife and child and John being affected not
only by the death of his marriage, but also with the nagging guilt of
causing the deaths of Roman's family and other families on board the
planes. Ultimately, I found
the sections that explored the ever growing fractured psyches of these two
poor lost souls to be the film's more enthralling.
AFTERMATH documents the overwhelming sense of remorse that John
feels for his misdeeds, which essentially destroyed his life, but it also
examines the immeasurable toll that the accident had on Roman. The film's latter half deals with how Roman processes his
intense sorrow into acts of violent comeuppance.
The real man that inspired Schwarzenegger's character located the air traffic controller responsible and
murdered him in cold blood, an act that sent him to prison.
For the most
part, I admired the thorny thematic terrain that AFTERMATH tackled,
especially in dealing with how once good men are driven to revenge
fuelled carnage to deal with depression over the loss of loved ones.
It's really all held together by Schwarzenegger, who has arguably
never played a man so mentally and physically frail.
His understated and powerful work here is driven home in one key
scene that involves him dealing with some slimy airline lawyers that essentially want to pay him off with a measly settlement.
The sequence could have been one fraught with shameful melodrama,
but Schwarzenegger plays the scene with such caged rage and soft spoken
spite that it simultaneously sells Roman's anger and sadness with
immediacy and conviction. Scoot
McNairy may have the somewhat trickier role as John, who has to inhabit an
endlessly distressed man that comes to the stark realization that he's
essentially killed hundreds of people because of a preventable work
mistake. Like his co-star,
McNairy thanklessly never overplays his role to histrionic soap opera
levels. You really feel this
man's dread and pain.
Despite two moody and effectively dialed down performances, AFTERMATH never really builds to the successfully earned dramatic crescendos that it wants to. At barely over 90 minutes, the narrative covers way too much time over the course of years in a hastily cobbled together fashion that could have definitely benefited from a longer running time. The film's slow-burn opening act is indeed intriguing, but as the plot ricochets back and forth between the two characters - sometimes smoothly, but more often than not rather inelegantly - you're left thinking that a better version of this tale was a few screenplay drafts away from achieving true symmetry. And the manner that everything inevitably careens towards Roman's confrontation of John, which in turn leads to another long time shift and yet another confrontation between Roman and John's offspring is equal parts disturbing and frustrating to endure. I understand the motive here, showing how people can, someway and somehow, find a manner of achieving inner peace and acceptance of past misdeeds, but it never pays off meaningfully because we never seen the journey of these characters towards this moment. So much is glossed over in AFTERMATH that its ending is not only distractingly contrived, but it also never feels dramatically potent; it's a real cheat.
That's all too
bad, because the film shows a side of Schwarzenegger that I do want to see
more of, even though audiences don't seem as eager (AFTERMATH grossed under a
million dollars in limited release earlier this year).
He's always been dogged by criticism for being an actor of limited
range throughout his career, but Schwarzenegger is actively trying to defy
his career-long critics, and his searing and potent work in AFTERMATH
shows a growing thespian maturation that's most welcome.
He brings a seasoned discipline to the film, even when its