As you look for movies to watch while staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, AFTERMATH (2017) may not be your best choice. It’s hopelessly depressing.
It’s also not that great a movie.
If there is one reason to watch it, it’s for the lead performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s right. The Terminator himself, here playing a subtle dramatic lead.
I missed this one on its initial release in 2017, which was easy to do, since AFTERMATH is a slow burn drama with not much to get excited about other than the fact that the cast features Arnold Schwarzenegger in a rare dramatic role.
I’ve always been a fan of Schwarzenegger’s, going all the way back to his TERMINATOR heyday and his subsequent action films and comedies. I also enjoyed his low-key horror movie MAGGIE (2015), a film in which he delivered a notable acting performance, and so I was intrigued to see him here in AFTERMATH, a movie in which he portrays a man grieving over the deaths of his wife and pregnant daughter, both of whom died in a plane crash.
AFTERMATH gets off to a solid start. It opens with construction worker Roman (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leaving work early so he can pick up his wife and daughter from the airport. They’re about to celebrate their daughter’s new pregnancy. But when he gets to the airport, he reads that the flight is delayed but there is no information as to when it’s arriving, and then he is asked to come with an airline representative into a private room, and it’s there where he is told that the plane has crashed.
This opening sequence is full of dread, as the audience sees where this is going before Roman does, since he’s so full of euphoria over seeing his wife and daughter, and the process of his being told about the crash is as painful as one can imagine. It’s really well-acted by Schwarzenegger. There’s no other way to say it. He’s really good here.
The film then jumps back in time moments before the crash, and we meet air traffic controller Jake (Scoot McNairy) who finds himself solo in the control tower at the airport, and through a series of problematic events including a faulty phone line becomes distracted, and on his watch two planes collide in midair. This is also a devastating sequence, well-executed by the film’s director Elliott Lester, and well-acted by McNairy.
So, the first twenty minutes or so of AFTERMATH are very, very good. But then the film really slows down and for a long time seems to go nowhere, and that’s because it doesn’t.
The story follows the parallel stories of Roman and Jake. With Roman, we watch him grieve over the loss of his wife and daughter, unable to move on, unable to find closure. He wants someone from the airlines to apologize to him for the deaths of his wife and daughter, but no one gives him that apology.
Jake is completely devastated by the crash and pretty much loses it, so much so that his wife and young son have to move out of their home. Eventually, Jake takes the airline up on their offer to relocate him to a new state with a new name and a new job, since his name had been made public in the media and as a result he had been receiving death threats.
As these two stories play out, it becomes obvious that these two characters are destined for a meeting, and how that will occur and what will happen when it does are questions that for the bulk of the film remain intriguing. However, the film’s climax is a big–-that’s it?–– which for me was a huge letdown. For a movie that is as slow burn and depressing as this one is, you really need a thought-provoking climax to lift it up, but this movie simply doesn’t have that moment. Its answer is violent and disappointing.
The very ending of the film is a bit better, but by that time it’s too little too late.
The main reason to see AFTERMATH really is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He really does deliver a strong performance in this movie. His portrayal of Roman is right on the money and comes off as a man who just can’t move on from the deaths of his wife and daughter. It’s natural and sad. You don’t watch him and think he’s acting. You believe he’s Roman.
Scoot McNairy is equally as good as the emotionally scarred air traffic controller Jake, a man who outwardly seems more unhinged than Roman, although Roman keeps most of his emotions inside. McNairy has been in a bunch of movies, including the lead role in Gareth Edwards’ MONSTERS (2010).
The screenplay by Javier Gullon starts off well with two riveting sequences, the one where Roman is informed about the plane crash, and the other where Jake is in the control tower when it happens. These two sequences are both very well-written, but after that things just slow down, and many opportunities are missed. The story shows the pain of these two men, but as it goes along, the question arises, so where is this all going? And it’s the answer to this question that is so disappointing.
Director Elliott Lester shares a similar fate in that the first two sequences are better than the rest of the movie, although I thought the gloomy look and feel of this movie was effective throughout. Lester captures the sadness of these two men with the ever-present cloudy and gray cinematography.
While the pacing of the movie was slow, I was not bored, as I was anticipating the confrontation between Roman and Jake, and Lester does a nice job gradually building to this fated meeting. But when Roman and Jake finally do meet, it changes the film and seriously takes away all that had come before it. It’s not that it’s an unrealistic moment. It’s simply a disappointing one. The audience has just invested nearly an hour and half together with these two grieving characters, especially with Roman, and the moment simply detracts from the bonds built during this time.
AFTERMATH is a moody and sorrowful character study of two men dealing with different kinds of grief following a tragic plane crash. It starts off well before settling in for a slow burn of a narrative that ultimately has little to offer in the way of a thought-provoking conclusion.