It may be cinematic sacrilege to say, but I much prefer the introspective, human Arnold Schwarzenegger over the Terminator one. With films like Maggie (2015) and now Aftermath, the iconic actor seems to be reconciling himself with the march of time and its gentler view on growing older and wiser.
Based on a true story about the mid-air collision of two planes over Germany in the early 2000’s, Elliot Lester’s film proceeds to observe the paths of two disparate men connected by the event, a father who loses loved ones on the flight (played by Schwarzenegger) and the air traffic controller (Scoot McNairy) on duty.
Beginning with Schwarzenegger, Aftermath follows him up until the point he reaches the airport to pick up his family before he’s gently whisked away into the office corridors and given the horrific news. The film then reverts back to McNairy and details his actions that night in a breathlessly staged scene that details exactly how the collision happened.
From there, Aftermath focuses on the compounding sadness and confusion both men harbor. As the grieving father, Schwarzenegger holds in most of the pain, portraying his sadness through subtle body language. His hulking frame slowly crumbles and hunches under the weight. It’s a good performance, but more integral to the film is McNairy’s role as Jake. He certainly gets the showier scenes, but the progression of emotions he displays makes for a far more compelling study of blame and guilt than anything else in the film.
Written by Javier Gullon and directed by Lester, Aftermath is a sturdy, efficient drama bolstered by two solid performances. Even if one senses where the film is headed about halfway through with the introduction of a plot device that always spells disaster in the third act, Aftermath wisely deals in the grey. Neither Schwarzenegger nor McNairy are demonized or moralized. They simply act and react with purposeful drive.
Though some elements of this story have been changed for dramatic purpose, the most interesting detail of this entire event lies in the real life aftermath. Vitaly Kaloyev (named Roman in the film and played by Schwarzenegger) became re-installed in Russian life and hailed as a hero for his actions. Lester’s film places Roman at an equally knotty moral crossroad and then, also, lets him off the hook. Unfortunately, the cycle of grief and retribution will most likely continue in future generations. That alone is the most mordant point of the story.
Aftermath opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, April 7 at the AMC Mesquite 30. It also begins on VOD platforms the same day.