Based on true events, Aftermath is the story of two men caught in inconsolable grief. One is the father of a pregnant daughter and loving wife, who loses them both in a plane crash. The other is the air traffic controller who has to learn to live with the fact that his mistake cost 270 lives. When their lives collide, it will have tragic consequences.
Although it has thriller elements, this film is not a simple revenge tale, but a look at how tragic events impact people. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking. Roman (Schwarzenegger) is a loving father, an honest hard working man, and when he breaks it’s pretty painful to watch. As the film progresses, he finds that the airline and their lawyers are more concerned about their bottom line than the human element. They refuse to look at the picture he carries of his family, and only offer money. He fixates on this idea that he needs an apology, and acknowledgement that they are at fault. And on this, the film hinges.
It could have been a classic revenge, action film, and you might think that it is with Schwarzenegger in the main role. But it does the true story justice: no one is a simple, one dimensional bad guy here. Everyone is just doing the best they can.
If you’ve seen Schwarzenegger in Maggie, then his performance in this film might not be a huge surprise to you. It’s heart-breaking to see a man who has been a symbol of strength for so many years transform into this loving man, broken by his grief. It’s a testament to Arnie that he has this ability to portray such real and intense emotions. It’s the heart of this film, and so important to it’s success. It feels like Schwarzenegger is having a whole new phase in his career, showing another side to himself, one with more depth, more heart.
The flip-side of Arnie in this film is Scoot McNairy as Jake, the air traffic controller. He has a son and a wife (played by Maggie Grace). He feels like a much less determined figure in this film, less definite. Though his mistake is a genuine one and he’s not entirely at fault, he becomes the scapegoat for the crash, and he spirals out of control as he can’t live with himself and what he’s done. Personally, I eventually found him a little annoying, but he’s a highly sympathetic figure. Not someone you’d wish revenge on. He and Roman are both victims of a system that can’t say sorry, that doesn’t feel comfortable recognising the humanity and emotions of real people, and yet even then, other than some really awful lawyers, the airline also doesn’t feel one dimensional either.
In essence, this film looks at the accident in a realistic way. Accidents happen. And when they do, we want to find fault for them. We want to make someone responsible. But in the end, that’s not going to heal our grief. Revenge is not the answer that we think it is.
This film is worth seeing for Schwarzenegger alone, but it’s a wonderful drama in it’s own right. It’s quite insightful into the processing of tragedy, from both sides, the victim and the perpetrator. There’s a dark element to this film, with it’s themes of revenge and obsessive thoughts, and yes, you could call these thriller elements. But that would be to sell the film short. It’s a heartbreaking story of love, loss and the folly of blame.
Aftermath is out on DVD & Blu-Ray!