The Aftermath is a beautifully executed war-time drama that never quite feels at home in its own skin. Too serious to be a tawdry soap opera but not engaging enough to be fully memorable. The great cast of Kiera Knightly, Jason Clarke, and Alexander Skarsgård make the most of the material, but their performances alone can raise the material only so high. 20th Century Fox releases The Aftermath on Blu-ray with a terrific video presentation and a subtle but dynamic audio mix. If you're a history buff there's enough material here to be entertaining, but the memory of the story may not stick for long. Worth A Look
It's 1946. The second world war is over and Germany is once again a defeated collapsed nation managed by an occupying force. Rachael (Keira Knightly) has arrived in Hamburg in the middle of winter to be with her husband Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) who has been charged with rebuilding the devastated city. Mourning the death of her infant son in the Blitz, Rachael is uncomfortable living in Germany - especially when she learns she's sharing their house with the German architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his teenage daughter. Distrust slowly turns to mutual affection as Rachael and Stefan bond over the grief of lost loved ones while Lewis must deal with a festering insurgent movement in the city.
For a WWII film, I'll give The Aftermath a lot of credit for meticulously depicting the harsh post-war conditions of Germany. While the snow-fallen scenery is beautiful, it's coupled with the ugly visuals of a bombed out city and a people with little to eat and nowhere to live. The human drama element is in peak form here as the idea of an English woman who lost her child is forced to live in the country of the enemy is a tantalizing idea. While the romantic elements between Knightley and Skarsgård were a foregone conclusion, I appreciate the fact that Director James Kent didn't just rush into things. A decent amount of time is spent setting the scenery and letting the two forge a relatable relationship.
Where the film flusters is its sense of balance. When it's being a romantic love story it's a solid film with attractive leads whose characters are at least somewhat believable enough that you could see the attraction. When the film is a thriller with a sympathetic English Colonel trying to help people but must also put down an insurgency, it's got some great edge-of-your-seat qualities. It's when these storylines cross paths that the movie just doesn't come together. There's awkward pacing that feels too rushed and convenient but then other times slow and drawn out into obvious territory. As the movie's plots unfolded I kept thinking how much better the film would be as a little longer mini-series instead of a movie that doesn't even scratch the two-hour mark.
It's a frustrating place to stand and say The Aftermath is only "not that bad." That's not great praise for a film with solid performances, an interesting story idea, and beautiful cinematography. But that's the best I can come up with sadly. Knightly, Clarke, and Skarsgård work very well together. They have interesting characters with dynamic arcs to follow, but the film's mechanical by-the-numbers plotting and obvious romance detours do the film a disservice. It just made me want to go back and watch Paul Verhoeven's Black Book for a WWII thriller with some romantic sex appeal or a classic like Mrs. Miniver for a wartime human drama about people and not soldiers. The worst sin of The Aftermath is that it reminds you of better movies you may already own. It's worth watching, but your mileage will vary.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Aftermath arrives on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital set. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a two-disc eco-friendly Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
I wasn't able to find much in the way of technical specifications about The Aftermath, but regardless of filming form or digital intermediate resolution, this is an often stunning 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The opening aerial shots of the destruction of Hamburg is haunting. No doubt a digital effect, but the level of destruction detail with smoldering rubble set against a stark white winter landscape is haunting. Once the film moves to its Prague locations, the scenes of rubble and shabby civilians wearing rags offers up plenty of facial features, costume details, and production design work to appreciate.
White is a prominent color throughout the film given its winter setting. The transfer handles the workload nicely without blooming issues allowing for some crisp natural whites to radiate off the screen. Also nice to see is a hint of color in this bleak wartime drama. Primaries may not get a lot of playtime, but when they're allowed to flourish they offer plenty of pop. Flesh tones are also nicely rendered with everyone enjoying a healthy pallet. Blacks are nice and inky with plenty of shadow grading to give the image a rich three-dimensional depth. All around for a standard 1080p Blu-ray this a damn beautiful presentation that could possibly only be made better on UHD with HDR.
The Aftermath comes packed with an effective English/German DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. One of the aspects of the film I admired is that when the German characters are amongst themselves they speak their native language without putting on a silly fake/Euro-smash accents. My German isn't that great so thankfully there are English subtitles! Dialogue as a whole is clean and clear. Surrounds are subtle but they're fully engaged. Even during the quietest times in the film, there's something in the soundscape to hear. The atmospherics are especially impressive in the Hamburg rubble sequences where there is a nice crisp wintery-echo quality. There are some occasional bursts of gunfire that get an extra punch in these surroundings. Scoring is subtle but offers a little extra resonance and during heavy dramatics and the film's climax, we get a little extra LFE tone. Levels are on point without needing to be adjusted.
Bonus features may not be the richest package ever assembled but they're pretty decent. The Audio commentary with Kent is the main draw offering plenty of production detail. The Deleted scenes aren't much to worry about. The most interesting behind the scenes feature is the sadly very short VFX Progressions showcasing the intricate CGI work. Some of it obvious but there are many sequences where you can't tell what is set and what was added in post.
Audio Commentary featuring director James Kent.
Deleted Scenes w/ Optional James Kent Commentary (HD 5:56)
VFX Progressions w/ Optional James Kent Commentary (HD 1:54)
First Look (HD 12:09)
Trailer (HD 2:25)
The Aftermath is an okay film. It's entertaining and never boring, but you can't shake that a better version of this film could have been made with a little more time to develop some of the story threads. The cast is on point and the setting of post-war Germany certainly made for an interesting backdrop, but the film moves too easy to be a memorable romance and doesn't have enough gumption to be a rock-steady thriller.
20th Century Fox delivers the film to Blu-ray with great results featuring a stellar video transfer and a nicely atmospheric audio mix to match. Bonus features may not be the best of the pack but there's some cool material in there. Your mileage may vary with this one but at the very least The Aftermath is Worth A Look.