Roman's (Arnold Schwarzenegger) life changes forever when he loses his wife and daughter in a plane crash. He attempts to move on from the tragedy but soon finds that he cannot face life without confronting Jake (Scoot McNairy), the air traffic controller responsible for the accident.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Roman Melnik, a construction worker who learns his wife and pregnant daughter have been killed in an air tragedy in Aftermath, a movie that is better than it has any right to be and shows that the aging action star is actually capable of doing more than flexing his muscles in one of his least testosterone-driven movies to date. The story, while based on real-life events, doesn't quite pass the plausibility test at several points, but for a long stretch, it's a really powerful character study.
Arnold isn't the first actor you'd think of when searching for someone to play a man suffering through inner turmoil after losing his family, so that makes Schwarzenegger's performance here so interesting to watch. I kept waiting for him to explode on screen in the way we've seen him do in so many other films, but to his credit (and to the credit of Director Elliott Lester), he keeps things nicely restrained for the majority of the story. This may not be the kind of movie fans expect (or even want) from Arnold, but he doesn't embarrass himself here.
The movie isn't just about Arnold's character, however. It's also about the air traffic controller, Jake Bonanos (Scoot McNairy), whose actions (or inactions as the case may be) contributed to the air tragedy – during which two planes crashed into one another and there were no survivors. The movie smartly shows what happens in the control room that puts the blame on Jake, not only to have the audience sympathize with the guy, but to show that the crash wasn't anything more than an honest accident.
The tragedy hits both men hard – but, honestly, perhaps harder for Jake than for Roman, as Jake is vilified in the press, questioned by his superiors, and forced to take a new job in another city away from his wife (played by Maggie Grace) and young son. Meanwhile, Roman's angst comes not only from the fact that he's lost those dearest to him, but the reality that no one associated with the airline has ever apologized for what has happened.
While the movie is based on the real-life 2002 Überlingen, Germany collision between two airplanes, there are a number of plot points in Aftermath that I found hard to swallow as a viewer – almost all of them used to set up important scenes. I'll touch upon just a few here. For starters, Roman doesn't find out about the plane crash until after he gets to the airport and is taken to a waiting room filled with family members of those aboard the plane. In a world with virtually instantaneous news, I found it pretty hard to swallow that he'd make it that far without hearing that the plane was at least missing. The air traffic control scene is equally questionable, as not only is Jake the only controller in the room when the accident happens, but there's no loud warning sound or flashing lights (other than the plane trajectory on one of the screens changing from green to red) when the two aircraft start to travel dangerously close to one another. Now, I have no idea how things really work in an air traffic control tower, but if they work like they are seen in this movie, it's amazing that planes aren't going down all the time. Finally, this movie asks us to believe that civilians are allowed to participate in the search of plane wreckage after a major crash. The script uses it as a way of getting Roman to sneak onto one of the search teams (so he can find the remains of his family), but does the NSTB and FAA really allow this sort of stuff to go on? Again, this would be news to me.
While part of the climax here is based on real-life events and part of it is fictional, neither are quite plausible for the characters as they are presented in the movie, and that's a shame since – despite some of my nitpicks above – the first hour of Aftermath is quite good. With those caveats in mind, I still think this one is worth checking out and perhaps even picking up. At the very least, it has two good performances in it – one being from a guy you'd never thought capable of doing something so nicely quiet and introspective.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Aftermath lands on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase that houses the 25GB disc along with an insert for an UltraViolet copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Imperium, Patriots Day, Solace, Extortion, and Maggie. The main menu features a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
Aftermath was shot digitally, although I was unable to find out the camera equipment used for this release. The image takes on a rather somber palette, with little use of brighter colors and an overall grayish tone to the presentation. Lionsgate has always done a pretty good job with transfers of digitally shot movies, and this one is no exception. Details are pretty strong throughout, and facial features are well-defined, meaning viewers will be able to see every wrinkle in Arnold's aging and grizzled face.
My biggest complaint about the image has less to do with this transfer than it does with how Director of Photography Pieter Vermeer shot the movie. There's frequent (and often distracting) use of lens flares in the image that I found to be more of a turn off than something that tonally adds to the presentation. Whether they're intentional or just Vermeer not wanting to take time to make sure they didn't appear so often is anyone's guess, but once you start seeing them, it's hard not to notice them every single time they occur – which is a lot. Other than that, the image here is pretty good, with solid black levels, only a touch of noise here and there (mostly in dimly lit shots), and no glaring problems with aliasing or banding.
The only audio track (other than the commentary track) on this release is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one and it's a decent, if unspectacular presentation. The dialogue in the movie is almost exclusively front and center, and the rears are primarily used to enhance the soundtrack. There's really not much of an attempt to make the film feel immersive (other than the use of the music), so there's very little use of the surrounds for ambient noises.
One thing I will say about the track is that it does use quite a bit of LFE for some low, rumbling moments from one's subwoofer. Again, almost all of this is provided via the movie's musical score (by Mark D. Todd), but it does add a sense of sadness (and occasional dread) to the proceedings that really help give this film the proper sense of tone.
So while this is far from a "showy" track in terms of what it provides listeners/viewers, it does its job, is mixed well (no issues with the music drowning out the spoken word), and is free from any obvious glitches.
In addition to the lossless English track, subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
Commentary with Director Elliott Lester and Producer Eric Watson – If you enjoy commentary tracks that spend more time talking about behind-the-scenes stories of the shoot as opposed to the technical aspects, this is the track for you. While the two men do give some insight into the production, they take a lot of time to tell listeners/viewers about how it was working with Arnold on the set, as well as their other experiences during the making of the movie. They also tell us which parts of the movie are based on real-life events and which are purely fictional.
Interviews with Director Elliott Lester and Director of Photography Pieter Vermeer (HD 7:24) – This featurette has the two men (separately) discussing their work on this project, interspersed with footage from the movie. Spoiler alert – this featurette gives away all the major plot points of the story, so it's one you don't want to watch until after you've seen the movie.
Aftermath Trailer (HD 2:22) – The original theatrical trailer for the movie.
Although much of the movie is based on real-life events (although "Americanized" for this presentation), I think Aftermath took some wrong turns in its last act, after what was a pretty strong hour of good storytelling and a surprisingly good performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I don't think the movie quite sticks its landing, but there's still plenty here to enjoy. Recommended.