Arnie’s back in this intense drama based on a real-life tragedy
Aftermath tells a really grim story, there’s no getting away from it.The plot is based on a real-life aviation disaster, in which a passenger jet collided mid-air with a cargo plane and killed hundreds of people. Vitaly Kaloyev’s wife and two young children were killed on-board and he struggled, understandably, to deal with their loss. In the film, Kaloyev is renamed Roman and is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.The crash itself happens under the watch of air-traffic controller Jacob (Scoot McNairy), who faces his own struggles with life after the accident. It’s obvious from early-on that the two men’s lives will cross again further down the line, but the majority of the film is concerned with Roman’s grief, his search for closure and, well, the aftermath.
Schwarzenegger is stoic and gruff, and while it’s easy to understand the performance as a grief-stricken parent and husband, it’s also quite difficult to watch an hour and a half of this still, quiet performance. It’s very understated, and probably a realistic portrayal of a slow-burning, eternal anguish, and you can tell this is part of Arnie’s attempt at a serious-actor-renaissance. McNairy plays his role with much more visible and obvious emotion, and conveys Jacob’s all-consuming guilt and grief effectively, with the help of a few close-ups.
The script, penned by Javier Gullon (Enemy) feels a little thin, and relies really heavily on the immensity of the tragedy. The pace is extremely slow, bookended by the awful accident and the fateful ending. A quick google will take you to articles detailing what really happened to Vitaly Kaloyev, and if it’s that answer you really want, there’s not much the film adds to what is an already tragic story. It’s a very melancholy and emotional ride, with a mediocre-to-weak script and a fairly unconvincing ensemble.
It’s very understated, and probably a realistic portrayal of slow-burning, eternal anguish, and part of Arnie’s attempt at a serious-actor-renaissance
There are a few really affecting moments though – Roman’s visit to the crash site and his search among the wreckage is difficult to watch, and the airport conversation where a motionless Roman is told the terrible news is harrowing. Director Elliot Lester pulls together some fairly clichéd pre-accident scenes, a few too many shots of aeroplane trails cutting across the sky and the relentless desolation of the ‘aftermath’ with an overwhelmingly grey colour-scheme, and with no relief at any point from the crushing awfulness of the story, it’s a pretty tough one.
Aftermath seems to be an attempt at a really hard-hitting, emotional human-interest film, and it falls fairly short of the mark. It’s got redemptive qualities – Schwarzenegger’s underplayed and subtle performance as the forlorn Roman is strangely impressive in its solid, silent guile, while McNairy goes to town with gut-wrenching emotion as the story plays out (slowly). Overall though, this is a seriously miserable watch – not only because of the tragic real-life backstory, but because of the slow-pacing and drab screenplay. One word that springs to mind repeatedly when thinking about the movie is ‘grey’ – in colour and in mood. There is a good deal of raw emotion that comes across realistically, and Gullon and Lester do a decent job of portraying the illogical and complex nature of grief and guilt. It’s a film about complete despair, that takes on some really heavy subject matter and doesn’t ever quite crack it.
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