Aftermath movie review: Arnold Schwarzenegger acts his heart out but it isn't enough
Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in a serious acting role is not something most of us are used to. However, in Elliott Lester's Aftermath, the original Terminator has traded in action for acting. And, while it definitely takes some getting used to, Schwarzenegger establishes that all his time spent in Hollywood has certainly paid off. But despite a commendable performance by Schwarzenegger, certainly, by his standards, Aftermath remains strictly average.
When Roman Melnyk’s (Schwarzenegger) wife and children are killed in a mid-air plane collision, Melnyk finds himself struggling to find meaning, drive and purpose in life. Left distraught by this loss, he finds himself set adrift, unable to move forward and wracked with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Meanwhile, Jake Bonanos (Scoot McNairy), the air-traffic controller responsible for the accident, is also living his own hell. Guilt-stricken and unable to cope, he embarks on his own dark path which threatens to throw his previously idyllic family life into chaos.
Aftermath sets out to take a long, hard look at the struggles of both men to cope -- one with the loss, the other with guilt, in the aftermath of unspeakable trauma. And, in this, it succeeds. It shows the striking similarities of both reactions, despite their vastly different circumstances.
Schwarzenegger, now without a family, is absolutely and totally alone. The younger McNairy, meanwhile, has a wife and a young son. However, both men are unable to get over the isolation caused by the accident. As McNairy unwillingly is forced to go through counselling and sort his head out, Schwarzenegger stays with his grief, unable to relate or connect with those around him.
Through all of this, the movie is solid, realistic, and, above all, doesn't seem to milk the drama from already heavy situations. Had it gone on in this vein, Aftermath could have made for compelling, even if not entertaining, cinema.
However, in its attempts to make the paths of the two men cross, the movie takes a decided turn for the worse, undoing any good work it had accomplished.
Muddled timelines and confused responses
The stories of both men are good on their own. Their coming together, though, is forced and results in garbled timelines that don't seem to make much sense.
While it seems like mere days have passed since the accident for Schwarzenegger, McNairy’s timeline, despite his similar reactions, seems to be spread over months. In fact, at the point where their paths cross, McNairy has moved cities, changed jobs, and seems more or less at peace with himself. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, is only just meeting with lawyers about compensation.
Their meeting is facilitated through the author of a book on the accident -- a book that is apparently about to be published, despite the accident still feeling extremely fresh in Schwarzenegger's story. None of it really adds up and seems like a rushed attempt at reaching some sort of resolution to both stories, instead of giving each story its own.
In keeping with this suddenly rushed treatment, their meeting and the fallout of it is also half baked. Neither character responds to the other in a way that tallies with their behaviour through the rest of the story. While this lack of coherence could be explained away by arguing that both men are emotionally and mentally very strained, the cinematic cliches the movie resorts to are at odds with the nuances portrayal of PTSD in the movie's first half.
As such, we get a movie that is neither here nor there. One that will not be remembered for its nuance, nor for its story and climax. The performances too, of both Schwarzenegger and McNairy, that would have otherwise been more redeeming, are also overshadowed by these failings.
Should you see it?
Despite it not being a bad movie per se, Aftermath isn't a film you absolutely have to see. Watch it only for proof that Schwarzenegger is not the limited, wooden, action hero we once knew.