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Review: Aftermath – “Credit should go to Arnie for giving us something different”

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Arnie is back and searching for retribution. When the legendary actor isn’t firing celebrities or flogging war-based mobile apps, Arnold Schwarzenegger still has time for what he is best at: acting. Recently he’s been more willing to shake off his hard man persona and play more challenging roles, and his latest film Aftermath is no different. However, unlike Arnie’s action flick marksmanship, this film misses the mark more than it hits it.

When you see the words ‘revenge’ and ‘Schwarzenegger’ you would be forgiven for expecting the ex-bodybuilder to be quipping his way through the explosive adrenaline ride we’ve become accustomed to, but Aftermath is a pure emotional drama. Based on the true story of the Überlingen mid-air collision, the film is an examination of a father struggling with the death of his wife and daughter and desperately trying to identify where to place the blame.

The film opens with Roman (Schwarzenegger) preparing for the imminent arrival of his wife and pregnant daughter who are flying to the US. Meanwhile, air traffic controller Jake (Scoot McNairy) starts his shift but, it will be with devastating consequences. His error causes the fatal mid-air crash of the flight. As the worlds of these two men collide the film explores the duality of the consequences. Jake is racked by the guilt of his actions, meanwhile Roman battles with his loss. Eventually, he starts to fight to seek answers and ultimately justice.

Initially, it takes a bit of adjusting seeing Schwarzenegger in a more grounded role but he eases into the sombre tone well. The beginning scenes are at pains to break our association with Arnie’s image, stressing he is a simple family man. Credit to him, as he brings a brooding masculine portrayal of a man empty with loss, who is just after one sane thing; an apology. This introversion can crossover into a performance that is a just a bit stiff but on the whole he does well with what he is given. Both Scoot McNairy and Maggie Grace (who plays Jake’s wife Christina) work excellently with the material, focusing on the impact of a guilt-stricken man whose world is falling apart.

Unlike similar films of recent times such as Sully and Flight, the scripts focus is on the emotion rather than process. Director Elliot Lester brings a functional aesthetic with a dulled colour palette but it’s quite bland visually, often feeling like a TV movie. It does manage one to two interesting moments, however. Particularly chilling is a scene where Roman is compelled to visit the crash site; this snowy landscape littered with plane parts and personal belongings of those aboard is unsettlingly reminiscent of news footage from the MH-17 Ukraine air-crash. Unfortunately, these are just a few moments that puncture through an otherwise cinematically bland experience. Javier Gullon’s script also begins to stutter after this point, becoming a bit of a slog with the story elements dragged out.

The premise is entirely based on Roman seeking an apology, some kind of justice for what has happened, which sets up expectations for a climatic showdown. These two lives have crossed and a meeting is inevitable. The resulting ending, is a disappointment. Just as we begin to see both their lives being rebuilt, the script has Roman inexplicably making a decision that will change his life forever. The payoff to his character arc is underwhelming, to say the least.

Overall Aftermath feels like an opportunity missed. The actors involved here, especially Schwarzenegger, are actually pretty good and credit should go to Arnie for giving us something different. Ultimately it’s all let down by the stuttering script and dull direction. It could have been a good exploration of reasonable compensation, how far would we go to forgive in the light of extreme circumstances. The final result muddles this moral ambiguity with the conclusion a schlocky and unsatisfying revenge plot.

For Arnie fans, Aftermath is worth catching to experience how underrated this legendary actor can be, the depths of this portrayal of grief will surprise some. While the film is far from a disaster the final result is a slight disappointment. It’s fantastic to see Schwarzenegger back, but this isn’t one of his greatest.

Aftermath is in UK cinemas from 7th April 2017.

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