Directed by Elliott Lester.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Kevin Zegers, Hannah Ware, and Glenn Morshower.
Two strangers’ lives become inextricably bound together after a devastating plane crash. Inspired by actual events, AFTERMATH tells a story of guilt and revenge after an air traffic controller’s (Scoot McNairy) error causes the death of a construction foreman’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wife and daughter.
Since returning to movies following his stint as the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a mixed bag of films. In truth he spent the late 90’s, and the early part of the new millennium in a steep decline before his political sabbatical. Among a failed attempt at franchise resurrection with Terminator Genisys, Arnold has tried to vary his roles and attempt to branch out into more grounded, human roles. There’s been a distinct and deliberate attempt to acknowledge his age, and to try and move away from the larger than life persona, and subsequently the characters he’s normally known for. Maggie was his most notable, if unsuccessful attempt at portraying an ageing every-man. In varying success Sabotage and The Last Stand (which was underrated in my opinion) were a halfway house between typical Arnold canon and this new attempt to shift into character acting.
Whether the Oak has the ability to pull the transition off fully remained to be seen coming into Aftermath. Based on a true story, here Arnold plays an immigrant family man awaiting the arrival of his wife and expectant daughter by plane. The plane doesn’t turn up unfortunately. Due to understaffing and human error, the plane carrying Arnold’s family collides with another in mid-air and everyone on board is killed. Roman (Schwarzenegger) seeks answers and an apology from someone, anyone, involved in the crash. None is forthcoming leading to Arnold seeking out the control tower worker, Jake (Scoot McNairy), whose fatal error lead to the crash. Meanwhile Jake struggles to cope with the guilt and his family life begins to break down, whilst he becomes a target from not just Roman but angry locals who dub him a “murderer.”
For Arnold fans expecting some form of showdown or some action over the course of the film, they will be disappointed. This is very much firmly rooted in the drama genre and focused on the respective characters of Roman and Jake. It’s a two hander and the movie rests on their emotional struggles with the tragedy. For a movie like this to work you need a combination of several things. These include strong direction, a good script and the right cast at the top of their game. A film like this rests on those elements to propel the story, arc the characters and grab the audiences interest.
This is where Aftermath falters.
Now off the bat I will commend Ahnuld. He is good here. He’s never dug this deep emotionally. This is new ground for him. The trouble is, it’s not new ground in general. We’ve seen this film before many times. It may be based on a true story but on so many occasions film-makers perhaps rest on their laurels when depicting a true story on-screen. The story is set in place. The key characters are there (even if occasionally names may be changed). For as much as some films may embellish on a true story too much, some do not do enough. Aftermath is a prime example. The character arcs allow for the actors to show off certain dimensions but the script doesn’t do enough to extend that or fill in the gaps. Scoot McNairy has the same issue here. He’s decent enough in what he’s given, but it’s not interesting or engaging enough. It’s rote, predictable, hackneyed and dull. The pair perform admirably (as do some of the support cast) but every role is underwritten and the film gives way to plodding pacing and repetition. There’s only so many times you can watch Arnold looking sombre, breaking down, or staring contemplatively at himself in the mirror.
The major problem with Aftermath is that it’s got half the material required to make an interesting film and that has been scraped thin over 90 minutes. Javier Gullon’s script is plodding and a little bit haphazard. Once the tragedy part is out the way there’s no idea in getting to the payoff at the end. The two characters hang around a bit and do very little, then Roman gets conveniently told Jake’s new address (who has gone into witness protection) a year later. It just seems like Roman’s vendetta has gone cold until he gets handed an address and then suddenly it’s back on. Now whether that was the real life situation I couldn’t say, but that doesn’t mean it works in a film. You have the core of what could make an interesting film. If you can’t get the characters and plot on point, then you need to create some embellishment, perhaps turn a few notches over from drama to thriller, or on the border. Add some tension, add some sort of hunt. Roman literally does nothing. Elliott Lester’s cumbersome, half-hearted direction doesn’t help either. Technically everything is efficient but nothing more.
Again, this is all a shame because the two leads were game. They turned up and delivered their two dimensions very well, but they’ve not been given enough to add that third to form fully fleshed characters in an engaging story. Not even Daniel Day Lewis at his most bombastic could have salvaged this one. Much like Maggie this will ultimately be a valiant attempt by Ahnuld to play a fractured, vulnerable and human character, but once again, he’s been put in a film that takes 90 minutes to deliver the 45 minutes of material they actually have. Aftermath will be one of those films on Arnie’s CV that will be largely forgotten.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★