Arnold Schwarzenegger admirably attempts to widen his range in his latest effort, about a man grieving over the loss of his wife and daughter in a plane crash. As in his similarly ambitious acting stretch, 2015’s Maggie, the former action star here delivers an impressively subtle, restrained performance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite have the chops to do full justice to the material, and his decades-long, popcorn movie image proves a further impediment. Despite the seriousness of his intentions, Aftermath doesn’t pack sufficient emotional punch.
The story begins with a mid-air plane collision resulting in a devastating loss of life. Besides the actual casualties, the victims include Roman (Schwarzenegger), a Russian immigrant, construction foreman who had hoped to be reunited with his wife and pregnant daughter; and Jake (Scoot McNairy) the air traffic controller who inadvertently caused the crash.
Schwarzenegger’s attempt to stretch his acting muscles falters.
Roman, abandoning his job, spends his days in morosely watching home movies and his nights sleeping next to his loved ones’ graves at the cemetery. He carries a photograph of them wherever he goes, imploring everyone involved, including the lawyers who condescendingly offer him an ungenerous financial settlement, to look at it. What Roman wants by way of compensation is not money, but rather a simple apology.
Jake similarly finds himself unable to resume his life. He retreats to his bed in his house now covered with hateful graffiti labeling him a “murderer,” and ignores his wife Christina (Maggie Grace) and young son. When Jakes nearly serves the little boy nearly raw eggs for breakfast, she suggests that they spend some time apart. He eventually accepts a severance offer from his employer and moves to a new town under an assumed name, working as a travel agent.
That the two shattered men’s lives would ultimately and tragically intersect becomes apparent from the beginning of Javier Gullon’s screenplay, inspired by a real-life incident. But Gullon, whose previous credits include the far more thematically complex Enemy, doesn’t provide much depth to the schematic storyline, with the result that the film mostly feels like a slow-paced slog featuring a hokey, melodramatic ending. Director Elliott Lester (Love is the Drug), employing a relentlessly drab visual palette, fails to provide stylistic imagination to the proceedings. The sole exception is an arresting scene in which Roman, hiding his connection to the event, volunteers at the crash site and discovers his daughter’s body.
Sporting the scruffy grey beard that, as it did in Maggie, signifies that he’s doing serious acting, Schwarzenegger gives a creditable, underplayed turn. But it’s hard not to wonder what a more accomplished thespian would have done in the role. McNairy, on the other hand, delivers an emotionally complex portrait of guilt that sporadically provides Aftermath with the dramatic resonance to which it so obviously aspires.
Production: Emmett Furla Oasis Films, Protozoa Pictures, Oak Productions, Hat and Cloak Productions
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Martin Donovan
Director: Elliott Lester
Screenwriter: Javier Gullon
Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Peter Dealbert, Randall Emmett, Scott Franklin, George Fulra, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eric Watson
Executive producers: Martin Blencowe, Barry Brooker, Ted Fox, , Wayne Marc Godfrey, Javier Gullon, Anthony Jabre, Robert Jones, Corey Large, Vance Owen, Steven Saxton, Josh Stern, Mark Stewart, Stan Werlieb
Director of photography: Pieter Vermeer
Production designer: Akin McKenzie
Editor: Nicholas Wayman-Harris
Costume designer: Bic Owen
Composer: Mark D. Todd
Casting: Lindsay Graham, Mary Vernieu
Rated R, 94 minutes