The effects of grief, accountability and personal catharsis are all explored in the aftermath of a horrific plane crash in this Arnold Schwarzenegger-led film based on real life events. How do you move on with your life when everyone that you loved has been taken from you? This is what Roman Melnyk must ask himself when confronted with the devastating loss of his family. While air traffic controller Jake (Scoot McNairy) who was on duty at the time of the crash, must try and rebuild his shattered life, knowing that the deaths of the victims rest heavily on his shoulders. Aftermath utilises these two contrasting characters to examine its key issues and themes.
Javier Gullón, the film’s screenwriter, who penned Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, a film with a psychological duality at its core, continues this thesis in Aftermath. In a corporate culture that is often defined by lack of responsibility masking itself as bureaucracy, Melnyk struggles to even get an apology let alone find somebody willing to except blame for the tragedy. The air traffic controller whose mistake led to these events becomes an emotional amalgamation of that experience to Melnyk who longs for an encounter that might on some level purify his repressed emotions. It was a smart move on the film’s part to give equal screen time to the perspective of the instigator of the accident. Jake is as much of an emotional victim of the disaster as any of the families and must deal with an entirely different kind of grief. Showing these two different viewpoints allows the film to concentrate much more on being an emotional affair rather than being a story about a victim and villain.
The problem with Aftermath is that the story, as it is told, lacks impetus and feels like a real slog. The film feels like it is in a perpetual state of stagnancy that is only broken up through its poorly conceived sense of pacing. The director, Elliot Lester, handles the traumatic scenes well but when it comes to any form of visual storytelling he fails miserably. The camera on numerous occasions panned down from a plane flying off in the distance to remind us of the psychological state of the characters, which felt beyond heavy handed. When a film is void of cinematic credentials like Aftermath is, it then becomes up to the actors to carry the story. I, Daniel Blake is a perfect example of a film lacking in visual flair. I, Daniel Blake’s bare minimum approach to camera work actually enhances the platform in which the actors have to perform. Unfortunately, in the case of Aftermath, it doesn’t have the same calibre of performance or actor.
Though Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have the acting chops, he often has the charisma and presence to carry a role and make it his own, if cast right. It hurts me to say that even in what is probably his best role as an actor to date, he isn’t up to the standard required to carry a film of this nature. It is a decent performance but the sheer ability that is needed to perform this kind of pent-up, impassive character who is at his core a vulnerable wreck, is a complicated balancing act that is beyond Schwarzenegger. The more subtle scenes that may otherwise have been full of emotional heft ultimately suffer because of this casting choice.
A lack of visual aptitude coupled with a lead actor without the range to carry this material essentially undoes any chance this film had to take on its key issues with a more fruitful sense of poignancy.
Originally published on April 5, 2017 for HeyUGuys.
Director: Elliott Lester
Writer: Javier Gullón
Cast: Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Martin Donovan, Kevin Zegers and Arnold Schwarzenegger