Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 23, 2017)
On the verge of his 70th birthday, Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to confront life as an aging action hero via 2017’s Aftermath. On the job, air traffic controller Jake Bonanos (Scoot McNairy) makes an error with tragic results, as his mistake causes two planes to collide.
This leaves all of those on-board the flights dead, a body count that includes the wife and daughter of construction foreman Roman Melnyk (Schwarzenegger). Consumed by grief, he attempts to locate and confront Jake.
That sounds like a pretty standard tale of revenge, and the Schwarzenegger of 1987 would’ve gone on a mission to kill the man who led to the loss of his loved ones. The Schwarzenegger of 2017 tends to go for roles with more moral ambiguity, though, so Roman doesn’t really connect with the one-dimensional supermen the actor used to play.
While I applaud Schwarzenegger’s willingness to accept more human roles, I can’t claim that he’s managed to develop into a great thespian over all these decades. Oh, he certainly displays stronger skills than he showed in his younger days, and I can’t say that he does a poor job as the lead.
However, Schwarzenegger can’t quite dredge up the emotional range needed for Roman. Although he occasionally touches on these elements in a successful way, too often we can see his limitations on display, as he gives us more than a few leaden moments.
Still, I admire Schwarzenegger’s attempts at “real acting”, and I can’t blame him for the movie’s main weaknesses anyway. Aftermath suffers mainly because it offers a slow narrative that never manages to get to the emotional core of its material.
Although my synopsis leaves the impression Aftermath focuses on Roman’s pursuit of vengeance, that doesn’t really hold true. In reality, it takes quite a while for Roman to launch into much of a crusade, as most of the story focuses on the debilitating grief he and Jake experience.
Rather than concentrate solely on the man who lost his wife and pregnant daughter, Aftermath gives Jake’s depression nearly equal weight, and I like that. It’d be too easy to make this a tale in which Jake serves as a traditional “bad guy”, but we see his side and understand the impact the accident had on his life.
Honestly, I’d prefer that Aftermath focus more on Jake than Roman simply because he provides the more unusual story. I can’t fathom the pain and guilt that would come with the knowledge my actions accidentally killed hundreds of people. An event that claims the life of my loved ones would devastate me, but the fact it’s out of my hands dulls some of that impact.
The awareness that I slipped up and hundreds of lives evaporated seems unbearable. I appreciate that aftermath explores this subject and doesn’t just stick with the traditional side of the narrative.
Unfortunately, the movie follows these topics in such a slow, sluggish manner that it never capitalizes on its potential strengths. While Aftermath boasts tremendous natural dramatic and emotional material, it creates an oddly disconnected and dull film.
This doesn’t make Aftermath bad, as it does boast the strengths that I mention. However, it just doesn’t create a particularly involving journey, so it winds up as a less than involving 94 minutes.