Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Martin Donovan, Hannah Ware. Directed by Elliott Lester. (2017, 94 min).
You gotta give ol' Arnold this much...he makes no pretenses about the fact he ain't the man he used to be. Unlike many of his peers, he knows he can no longer pull-off being an indestructible action hero without looking ridiculous. For much of his post-gubernatorial career - even Terminator Genysys, to a certain extent - he acts his age and all the baggage that comes with it.
And fortunately for him, he had learned to become a better actor over the years than most of those same peers, to the point we can accept him in a straight dramatic role, such as his melancholy turn in Aftermath. In fact, his rich, low-key performance is the best part of the entire film.
Arnold plays Roman, a construction worker whose wife and pregnant daughter die in a mid-air plane collision. Jacob (Scoot McNairy) is the air traffic controller who was on-watch when the disaster occurred, which ultimately killed 271 people. For most of the film, their individual stories are presented concurrently. Both men are devastated, neither able to put the tragedy behind them. Roman still wants answers - or even an apology - which aren't forthcoming. He becomes so withdrawn and lonely he contemplates suicide. Meanwhile, blame for the crash is placed almost solely on Jacob, both publicly and at work (though it's suggested it may not have actually been his fault). Not only does he become alienated from his wife and son, he's forced to relocate to another state with a new job and identity to avoid further public scrutiny.
Eventually, Roman decides he can't fully move on until he confronts Jacob personally, either for an apology he's still waiting for, or to exact revenge.
But Aftermath is less about revenge than how two people struggle to deal with an emotionally devastating tragedy. Neither is a hero or a villain. While we watch both men make some questionable - sometimes terrible - choices, we empathize with both of them. This is entirely due to the two leads. McNairy delivers an effective performance in arguably the most challenging role, a hapless man whose overwhelming sense of guilt threatens to consume him. Schwarzenegger is the real revelation, though, with a complexity & vulnerability he only hinted at in Maggie.
With almost no moments of levity, Aftermath is a bleak, mournful and understated film about the effects of a tragedy that most of us pray we'll never have to experience ourselves. As such, it's not a grand old time at the movies, though worth the effort to see Schwarzenegger at his absolute best.
FEATURETTE: Interviews with director Elliott Lester & director of photography Pieter Vermeer
AUDIO COMMENTARY - with director Elliott Lester & producer Eric Watson
PURR-R-R...NO PICNIC, BUT SCHWARZENEGGER IS OUTSTANDING