The Aftermath, 2019.
Directed by James Kent.
Starring Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, Flora Thiemann, Alexander Scheer, Fionn O’Shea, Frederick Preston, Anna Katharina Schimrigk, Jack Laskey, Joseph Arkley, Kate Phillips, Tom Bell, and Martin Compston.
Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.
It’s easy to imagine what probably inclined director James Kent (Testament of Youth) to adapt Rhidian Brook’s book The Aftermath into a movie (the novelist also serves as one of three writers on the script in addition to Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse), as mining immediate post-World War II Germany for dramatic romance on paper seems to yield untapped potential. And while I can’t speak for the quality of the book itself (again, the writer of the source material is on board here so it’s reasonable to, at the very least, assume the stories are similar), the film is as dry and dull as they come. It’s a movie where no matter how hard I try to come up with something excitedly positive to say, all my mind comes back to is “well, it had one of the steamiest sex scenes I have seen recently.”
Jason Clarke plays Lewis Morgan, a British corporal designated to Germany during the war and married to Keira Knightley’s Rachael Morgan, who is obviously ecstatic over the Allied victory as they will have more time to spend together. However, they are still dealing with the loss of their son at the hands of a German bombing in different ways; Rachael clearly has not moved on while Lewis is back into a daily routine. They are assigned to take over the house of Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), also grieving over the loss of his wife while trying to raise an understandably upset and also distant daughter that finds him to be a coward for never once supporting Hitler and now letting their home be taken away. To make a long story short, after seeing the kind of harrowing things that go down at camps from remaining Nazis, Lewis decides to let the German family stay in their new home until Stephen can have his paperwork cleared to continue his life freely as a clean citizen. Meanwhile, Rachael maintains a vendetta against the Germans, but as Lewis continues to neglect her in favor of work they begin to find… uh… a lot more than common ground.
Unfortunately, The Aftermath does the bare minimum telling us who these characters are without developing them in the slightest. I don’t doubt for a second that you could wring out a highly compelling story involving a grieving German-hating mother falling in love with a German five months after World War II, but you need to do more than connecting their feelings with sexual attraction and by both of their children having a piano hobby. It’s not even a spoiler to say that by the end Rachael will have to choose one of these men, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what her motivations were to stay with one of them.
The story also jumps around to characters that barely affect the plot, and when they do the reasoning is so contrived that all there is to do is question why anyone thought it would be a good idea in the first place to include them. If I can barely tell you anything about the three connecting threads of the love triangle, there’s even less I can tell you about supporting characters like Stephen’s daughter, or the Nazi boyfriend she wins over who maybe has two lines in the entire movie but plays an important part in the climax. Scenes involving fancy dinners and guests are also worthless, adding nothing to the narrative. As previously mentioned, the one good thing the filmmakers are good at is delivering intimacy, so maybe if The Aftermath simply embraced its horniness (lust fills the eyes of any close-up of Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgard) and trashy soap opera vibes, there would be a little more value.
It’s also painfully overacted, with Rachael breaking out into tears whenever she’s not daydreaming of hooking up with Stephen. And when we are not watching these two flirt around with one another (their physical chemistry and body language are enough to make one buy into the romance, regardless of how embarrassingly underwritten the characters are), there are glimpses of Lewis handling business with the remaining Nazis, except none of it is interesting at all. If anything it’s unintentionally hilarious considering he is completely clueless to everything going on at home. Even when he does return, it’s hard not to laugh at the dope he is.
It’s a shame because the production team and costume designers are doing their best to work with the material given to them (that yellow dress you see on the poster pictured way above is one example, while the setting definitely feels war-torn and gloomy), but it’s nowhere near enough to make The Aftermath anywhere close to watchable. I didn’t think it could get any lower than Serenity for Jason Clarke in 2019, but here I am forced to reconsider. Keira Knightley is cringeworthy, and even Alexander Skarsgard is too talented for this. To clarify, there’s nothing low about doing an overblown love triangle picture that contains bitterness and nudity among other things, but an approach like that needs to be entertaining. Not only that, but The Aftermath also fails at capitalizing on its historical setting despite unfolding during a moment in time so intriguing it’s ripe for any kind of storytelling, let alone adultery.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com