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It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger is enjoying a return to the movies, from his expected appearances in the Expendable franchise and the latest Terminator film to some decidedly non-traditional roles, including Maggie, an unconventional zombie film where he played the father of an infected child to now this, Aftermath, again as a father facing great horror. What’s surprising is how the elder actor embraces the darkness these new parts require, revealing that violence has never been the reason he’s been so successful, but rather his presence alone.
Construction foreman Roman Melnyk (Schwarzenegger) is awaiting the arrival of his wife and pregnant daughter, flying in to Ohio from Kiev. With flowers in hand, he is told by a member of the airline that there has been a terrible accident–a collision at high altitude has caused the death of everyone on board both planes, including his family. The loss is devastating, but for air traffic controller Jake Bonanos (Scoot McNairy)–who in a moment of distraction and unable to stop the accident–it becomes unbearable, overcome with guilt as his own family can’t cope and the investigation wears on. As the two men deal in separate ways with the tragedy, they themselves head for a collision of their own as Roman finds no solace in the aftermath of a mistake no one takes the blame for.
Directed by Elliott Lester, based on the real events of the Überlingen mid-air collision of 2002, the film is a study of despair and consequences as the harrowing journeys of these two men veer closer together. It tracks the ever-closing space between Roman and Jake, their meeting inevitable and unlike a typical revenge thriller, doesn’t spend its time propping up the ‘hero’ hunting a one-dimensional villain, but rather painting two shades of one color as both tread similar ground. As such, Aftermath is a story of atmosphere and brooding emotional suffering that purposefully diverts from the expected. It’s about the waiting, the passing of time, of days, hours and minutes as they search for hope and meaning where there seems none.
Both Schwarzenegger and McNairy are very good, each providing a sense of great personal impact to both sides of the story. Lester gives them several moments to solidify their positions as Roman cares little if at all for the compensation package the airline lawyers offer and Jake barely is able to maintain a waking thought. In a troubling scene, Roman cons his way into the debris cleanup crew and manages to make a most disturbing discovery that is heartbreaking to watch and while Schwarzenegger commands the moment, it is Lester’s restrained direction that makes this and so many others work. Rarely is a scene in the film manipulative, especially when many could be, with both Roman and Jake genuine characters whose paths and fates feel earned.
The escalation of Aftermath is a true slow burn, one that provides a shocking if not expected end, one uncompromising in its finality. Rather than a traditional story of deep-seeded revenge, it is much more about the psychological trauma of loss than acts of violence. While it has its flaws with pacing and a needless finale, the results are nonetheless, well worth a look.
Movie description: Aftermath is a 2017 drama/thriller about two people who become bound by the tragedy of a devastating plane crash.
Director(s): Elliott Lester
Actor(s): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maggie Grace, Kevin Zegers