Run Time: 94 Mins
What To Expect: A heavy and oppressive drama, Schwarzenegger’s best performance ever
Usually when I get invited to look at a smaller movie, the chances are that it’s probably better than the bigger movie invites. Two examples are The Conjuring 2 sucking with Kickboxer: Vengeance being highly enjoyable. It’s probably because the powers that be know that the smaller movies in question are good and that they need that extra bit of publicity. Cards on table, in the case of Aftermath (previously titled 478) with Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was quietly expecting another bad egg like Maggie. Turns out it’s a decent drama, with a script that, in a not-so-alternate universe, would probably have starred Casey Affleck and Hugh Jackman… and gotten a massive promotional budget and praise.
In Aftermath, Arnold plays Ukrainian immigrant Roman, eagerly awaiting a visit from his adoring wife and daughter. He tells his boss at the construction site that he’s had the house prepared for days — with banners and balloons awaiting their arrival, he can hardly contain his glee. Their arrival is not to be though, because at the air traffic control center at the city airport, controller Jacob (Scoot McNairy) has a brief, understandable lapse in co-ordination, resulting in two airliners colliding and destroying each other at 5,000 feet. Roman’s family dies.
From there, two separate angles of anguish are studied, from Roman’s point of view as the grief stricken father and husband, and from Jacob’s point of view as the guilt-stricken controller, responsible for the deaths of so many. Heading towards the end, Roman wants answers and an apology — leading him to Jacob.
It seems that in the 21st century, the single most iconic symbol of trauma is the airliner. Take your pick from 9/11 to MH-17, with hijackings and crash sites, this sombre and oppressive movie appeals to our subconscious grieving; the scene with Schwarzenegger sneaking into the crash site to find his family in particular is raw stuff, with that familiar image of dislodged seats and bodies hanging from trees. To that end, this is a demanding role that many actors would flunk, so who would’ve thought that none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger would knock this type of thing out of the park?
It’s his best acting performance in, well, forever. There are dense and strong emotions that need to be conveyed here, but with tact and subtlety… Arnold does it brilliantly. Better for example than in the borefest that was ‘Maggie’, which was simply dull. Here, you genuinely feel for the character and want to see what he’s going to do next. This includes Scoot McNairy, who handles a man with hundreds of deaths on his shoulders equally as well. In fact I found McNairy’s character more interesting, since being haunted by mass death at your hands is extraordinary, while losing family is not. And by the way, this is not a cameo con job, with Schwarzenegger appearing sparsely, it’s about 50/50.
I don’t know how Schwarzenegger fans are going to take this movie. It’s not an action movie, it’s not even a thriller. It’s a character study, a drama… and director Elliot Lester knows how to subliminally take you out of your comfort zone with small beats here and there, such as the muffled background noise when Arnold is learning of the accident of a another relative of another family beating the wall in despair in the room next door – this is contrast with Arnold’s quietness. Some will find this stuff kind of depressing, what with its winter setting and lack of smiles. But it scores, because it knows its limitations (keeps it to 90 minutes) and the actors make it. The ending however is unexpected and might further divide people.
This movie is going to be a critical success. What can I say… it’s not a masterpiece and can be dreary now and again, but I had fun watching it and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t know Arnold had it in him. A very strong seven.