"Aftermath" could have been a profoundly moving treatise on bereavement and reconciliation. In fact, at a few key points in the narrative, I felt the shadow of greatness fall lightly over the narrative, only to withdraw its elevating hands as it plods through the lives of two characters wading through a fearsome tangle of personal tragedy.
The film opens on a grand note of heightened tragedy: an aging construction engineer prepares happily for his wife and daughter's arrival...only to be told at the airport that the plane has crashed. Just think! This moment should grip us in a clutch of unmitigated calamity. It is a strangely sterile moment made even more dispassionate and distressfully distancing by Scahwarzenegger's inability to enter the broken heart of Roman, the man who loses everything in one swift stroke of ill luck.
It's as if Schwarzenegger is reluctant to mine Roman's grief too intimately. He constantly skims the surface of the character's grief, leaving us more perplexed than moved by the man's predicament.
Far more credible is the guilt and grief of Jacob, the aviation traffic controller, played with a raging empathy by Scoot McNairy. While Jacob's grief seems far more accessible and real than Roman's, the lines and situations punctuating his predicament are far from credible.In one sequence he wades out of bed to snap out of his depression by making breakfast for him young son.
"You can't do this to him," his wife scolds the distraught Jacob.
Before we figure out why she would resent her husband's efforts to bring normalcy she packs her bags and leaves the man with his suicidal thoughts. Marriages and guns are interchangeable in some stressful circumstances.
The script continues its shaky journey through the indescribable grief of the two men without leaving any lasting impact on us. The fringe characters who are teased into the terrifying duet of depression are so sketchy they seem to de-energize the grief that resides at the core of the narrative. Neighbours, friendly journalists, nosy lawyers trying to pry open the two grieving men's wounded hearts occupy a dead-end .
They don't even try to open the locked doors of the two protagonists' hearts. In spurts the emotions come alive. There is a very moving scene at the spot where Roman's family had crashed whenA another bereaved man tells Schwarzenegger how difficult it is for him to live through every hour of each day.
"You'll find a way," Jacob assures the grieving compatriot.
"Have you found a way?" the co-griever asks.
This man's grief seemed more real than anything else in the clumsily staged drama of disintegration. The film ends on such an awfully clumsy note you wish the writer had shown more respect for the bereaved than to drag the mourning into this morass of mediocrity.