You might think at the age of 69 that Arnold Schwarzenegger is an old dog incapable of learning new tricks, but you'd be wrong. We're actually in one of the most exciting stretches of his career, and I'm more excited for the work he's doing than in a very long time. While he still dabbles in too many blockbusters trying to reclaim old glory, which have almost universally been disastrous by the way, Schwarzenegger is also doing more dramatic work than ever and proving he's pretty damn good at it. His turn in the zombie drama Maggie was stellar, and now he's given one of the best, and certainly the most sensitive performances of his career in Aftermath.
Based loosely on the true story of Vitaly Kaloyev, Schwarzenegger plays Roman, a man whose wife and daughter were killed when their flight collided with another. The tragedy was initially blamed on Jake (Scoot McNairy), the air traffic controller who was in charge at the time. Roman is devastated, losing everyone he ever cared about and the only family he has. He's so distraught that he fakes being part of the rescue crew just to be near the crash site, where he makes a heartbreaking (and totally implausible) discovery. This only causes Roman to become more obsessed with the man he still held responsible for their deaths, while Jake struggles to cope with the guilt he's carrying without driving away his own family.
Incredibly, the film is produced by both Schwarzenegger and Darren Aronofsky, a combination nobody could have ever seen coming. Aronofsky's influence is apparent, though, as this is a small-ish character driven piece about how two vastly different men handle grief. Directed by Elliott Lester (Blitz, Nightingale), each scene is played close to the vest with a minimum of overblown dialogue. It's perfect for Schwarzenegger, whose found a way to channel his tough-guy mystique into a different kind of character; one with a simmering anger. You might go into Aftermath thinking Schwarzenegger's going to grab a missile launcher and go ballistic and kill everyone in sight, but the despair within Roman that silently builds into rage is tragic to watch because he comes across as a gentle giant. It's hard to fathom he ever had a violent thought before the accident occurred.
Some will find Aftermath too slow-moving for their tastes, especially those who are used to the old Schwarzenegger way of doing things. If you're looking for an exciting thriller with explosions and bad one-liners, this isn't it. But if you want to see Schwarzenegger prove how good of an actor he can be with strong, emotional material then this is it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5