An understated Arnie is at the centre of this sporadically impressive but ultimately anticlimactic drama
In his 70th year, Arnold Schwarzenegger shows no signs of slowing. While keeping his hand firmly in the action genre, with the likes of the Expendables franchise and the forthcoming Legend of Conan, he is also choosing roles that explore the emotional vulnerability under all that trademark brawn.
So it is with Aftermath, directed by Elliott Lester (Blitz), in which Schwarzenegger plays Roman, a grieving father struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife and pregnant daughter in a horrific plane crash. It's a role which recalls 2015's underappreciated Maggie, in which he also played a devoted dad; here, that means tracking down air traffic controller Jake (Scoot McNairy), who was on duty the night of the accident and is also overwhelmed by his devastating mistake.
As the two draw inexorably closer, Aftermath becomes a study of grief that, despite occasional moments of mawkishness, is anchored by raw honesty. Inspired by a real-life incident, screenwriter Javier Gullón (Enemy) has created characters that are authentic in their despair and, while some of their behaviours are mined from genre cliché – Roman just wants someone to apologise, for example – he mostly avoids melodrama. Both Schwarzenegger and McNairy play these men with restraint, and it's refreshing to see the subject of male trauma being portrayed with such sensitivity; there is no chest-beating here.
Underscoring this idea of seismic loss is Pieter Vermeer's evocative cinematography, which paints this bleak story in suitably sepia tones. Fleeting flashes of brightness, such as white contrails against an azure sky, are a reminder that, for the players, this is a world devoid of colour. Fittingly, we don't see the crash itself, other than flashing red lines on a radar screen, but a sequence in which rescuers comb the wreckage is far more powerful than any CGI explosion.
It's disappointing, then, that Aftermath goes rapidly downhill after Roman and Jake finally meet, succumbing to a rushed and obvious ending which is something of an anticlimax given the layered drama that had come before. Still, it remains a film worth seeking out.
Limited release from Fri 7 Apr.