For most of his career, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been known as the tough guy, the guy that can kick butt and take names. His career launched when people saw him in the body-building documentary, Pumping Iron, and then really took off with films like the Terminator series, the Conan films, Predator, and Total Recall. But as the actor and former governor of California is getting ready to turn 70 this year, he’s taking on roles that are unlike anything he’s done before. Of course, he hasn’t completely given up on doing another Terminator, even though the world didn’t need one, or any other guns-a-blazing action flick like Sabotage. However, he’s showing us that he can do more than just be the tough guy. Just a few years ago, he played a father protecting his daughter as she transforms into a zombie in Maggie. This year, he, once again, plays a father going through a tough, family-related situation in Aftermath. It doesn’t have zombies or any other fictional creature of any kind. This is a straightforward drama that was inspired by true events.
You’re probably questioning if Schwarzenegger has any range beyond the movies in which we typically see him. After seeing him in Aftermath, it’s safe to say he does. The man known for catchphrases such as “I’ll be back” and “Get to the chopper” and for hardly, if ever, showcasing an emotional bone in his body on the silver screen, does have the capability to effectively portray a grieving family man well. It’s quite a shock, actually. And though he’s given the opportunity to showcase it here, Aftermath is something that, unfortunately, lacks much engagement, and, in the end, wastes one of the more intriguing performances Schwarzenegger has given in his career.
Initially set in 2002, Schwarzenegger plays Roman, a construction foreman whose life is turned upside down after the plane carrying his wife and pregnant daughter collides with another, killing all the passengers onboard both aircrafts. The causes of these planes crashing into each other stem from equipment issues and an air-traffic controller named Jake (Scoot McNairy), who was roped into monitoring them at the same time after a co-worker steps out.
Both men are devastated by the event. Jake receives death threats, and he and his wife (Maggie Grace) separate. Roman spends more than a year grieving and trying to figure out how to find the man he feels is responsible for his family’s death.
Aftermath is a small, compelling drama in the beginning. We’re introduced to both characters individually as the film shows a title card with the character’s name on it before delving into the introduction of their story. We know that the two will eventually have that moment in which they meet each other. But director Elliott Lester and writer Javier Gullón keep the viewer waiting for this moment to come. The build-up to that is filled with far too many manipulative scenes and a score so overpowering that it becomes unbearable at times.
We’re interested in the performances by all involved, but the way in which the characters are shown dealing with grief comes across as rehash from other dramas and, in some cases, absurd. Some of these are almost your typical movie moments that aim to elicit an emotional response without understanding that there needs to be some kind of authenticity to these characters and the scenarios in which they are involved.
Take, for example, a scene in which the NTSB are investigating the crash. We actually don’t see the crash as it happens. Lester keeps that moment minimal by showing two dots on a map suddenly disappear. This is actually effective by itself. Rather than being a big spectacle, something as miniscule as what we’re shown here works just as fine.
But when the NTSB investigates the crash, Roman figures he should find a way to get into the site to see if he can find his family. One scene worker before him is asked if he has any relatives or family that were involved, and he says he doesn’t. When it’s Roman’s turn to get the proper equipment to work the site, he is simply asked, “Are you with him?” To which Roman simply says “Yes,” and is granted clearance.
Can you guess what happens? Yep, Roman finds his family and breaks down in tears. It’s scenes like this that makes Aftermath more hokey than impactful, and it's a shame, too.
By the time Roman and Jake meet, we still haven’t found much of a reason to fully connect to the story. It shows the grief in the men’s faces, but it drags it out to a point in which the message gets lost. Their meeting scene becomes one of the biggest strikes against the film, because it's a highly anticipated moment that becomes anti-climatic. It’s frustrating that Lester and Gullón barely spent any time with the two of them together in the same room, because that’s when the movie finally started to show that it was going to take us down an intriguing road. Or so we thought.
The Blu-ray for Aftermath has a nice, clean image transfer, and the sound quality is superb. However, the special features are lacking. There’s a seven-minute interview with Lester and director of photography Pieter Vermeer that talks about the making of the film and working with Schwarzenegger in a role that’s not typical for him. The audio commentary with Lester and producer Eric Watson is a nice discussion in which the two reminisce about making the movie. Other than that, the rest of the features are trailers for other movies.
I can’t say Aftermath is a terrible movie; it most certainly is not. But with Schwarzenegger going for something outside of his usual choice of roles, I was kind of hoping for something that had more to it than just grief-ridden drama cliches. I would like to see Schwarzenegger to continue down this path of more serious roles, since he obviously has the chops for it. I just hope he can find scripts that better serve his performance.