Two parents deal with the effects when their son is accused of murdering his girlfriend.
'Before and After' (1996) is perhaps Iran-born director Barbet Schroeder's most mainstream American film. Headlined by a star-studded cast that includes Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep, expectations were high for this Hollywood Pictures drama scripted by Ted Tally ('The Silence of the Lambs') from a 1992 novel by Rosellen Brown ('Tender Mercies'). The movie received an overwhelmingly negative review by Siskel & Ebert and quickly died at the box office. The fact that Schroeder and Tally were reworking so many conventions of the classic melodrama played a large role in their film's lackluster critical and commercial reception. 'Before and After' opens and concludes in a roundabout way with adolescent Judith Ryan (Julia Weldon) looking back at a turbulent period in her family's recent history. [Warning: spoilers ahead.]
The body of teen Martha Taverner (Alison Folland) is found alongside a road and identified by Dr. Carolyn Ryan (Streep), a child pediatrician who apparently once treated Taverner. Officer Fran Conklin (Daniel von Bargen) pays a visit to the Ryan's secluded home in New England to inquire about son Jacob (Edward Furlong), who they soon learn has gone missing. Ben Ryan (Neeson) is completely apprehensive about the whole ordeal and demands a search warrant. Ben discovers that Jacob was likely the last person to see Martha and may have played a part in her death. The Ryans fret over their son's whereabouts and the fate he will ultimately face. Although the plot of 'Before and After' employs tropes of the melodrama, the storytelling is given a deft hand by Schroeder's direction. The film is lesiurely placed and plot developments gradually unfold. The acting, however, is too over-the-top at certain moments, particuarly by a haggard Neeson who obsesses about controlling how the case can exonerate his son. He wants to save his family at all costs and his shady motives clash with the altruism of the Streep character. Furlong, although famous very early in his career, has always been an underrated actor and delivers a restrained performance as the beleaguered son. He does not speak for his first couple of scenes, his peakedness and droopy eyes conveying a state of withdrawal. The movie also benefits from a stalwart peformance by Alfred Molina, who plays the big-shot criminal lawyer defending Jacob in the murder trial. 'Before and After' is not as misguided and maligned as critics have alleged. Tally's script does contain some clichés and hackneyed phrases but his portrayal of Jacob's plight is utterly compelling and poignant. The consequences for Neeson's duplicitious character are implied but the viewer is left wondering Jacob's future until the judge's final rendering.
'Before and After' had an undistiguished DVD release so this new transfer by Mill Creek Entertainment is a pleasant surprise that exceeds expectations for a low-budget title. Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the film looks very clean and retains a nice amount of grain for the outdoor scenes. Evidently, the movie was shot almost entirely during the winter so it displays a cold and gray look. For end-of-day shots, colors are quite subdued and could have exhibited a sharper contrast (without any brightness boosting, of course). Mill Creek has divided the film into a dozen chapter stops on this BD-25 disc.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, though competetly mixed, sounds more like a traditional Dolby Stereo Surround mix. Granted, there are few loud effects and surround channels are given their most use during Howard Shore's warm score. The speakers give solid treatment to the score's strings and woodwinds. Dialog is consistently clear. I played the English SDH all the way through and they cover just about every spoken word. One technical quibble, however, is Mill Creek's decision to present the subtitles in all block letters instead of sentence style.
The lone extra is a full-frame theatrical trailer.
'Before and After' is an underrated melodrama that deserves a second chance on high-def. Mill Creek delivers very good picture and above average sound. It is cheaply priced and I would recommend a purchase for fans of Streep, Neeson, and Furlong.