Roman (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction foreman in his sixties who has been looking forward to this day for a while, as with Christmas on the way his wife and daughter are flying into town to celebrate the festive season with him, this being the first time he will have seen his offspring since she became pregnant. All very well, and his boss allows him to leave work early out of goodwill, but he now has to wait in his already decorated house for the time when he goes to the airport to pick them up. Finally, it arrives and off he goes with a bouquet of flowers, but when he approaches the desk in the arrivals lounge, he is told to come away to an office where they have something important to tell him. Something awful...
"Inspired by a true story" claims the first card we see after the title comes up, and Aftermath joined the legions of drama that took real life events and put their own spin on them, in this case an Americanised variation on the Überlingen mid-air collision of 2002 where thanks to a large degree of confusion among the air traffic control, two passenger jests collided in the skies over Germany, killing everyone on board. That was bad enough, but the case gained further notoriety when one of the bereaved who had lost his family in the tragedy took it upon himself to hunt down the controller he felt was responsible, and attacked him with a knife in front of his wife and children; further controversy emerged when he was allowed home to Russia to a hero's welcome.
The point being, the killer was not in his right mind when he committed the act, so was able to be let out from prison early (as a matter of interest, he did not like what these filmmakers did to his story when he saw it, feeling they made the controller character too sympathetic). Therefore what was presented was a series of woozy sequences where Roman would try and make sense of the world and come to the conclusion that it made no sense other than what he was able to impose on it, and what he wanted to impose was revenge. Although the film was not a major hit, Schwarzenegger proved a draw among his loyal fans who wished to see how he could handle a serious, dramatic role, much as he had back in the eighties when he attempted comedy to extend his range.
Therefore the novelty here was not that Ahnold could act, but that he could act in a film that did not have the audience expecting him to off someone in a violent, action packed fashion and make a quip straight afterward to reassure us this was all a bit of fun really. In Aftermath, the subject of sudden death was not something to be taken lightly, and while it was not as if the star had not appeared in work that did not have any sincerity about it before, this was heaving with importance, mainly thanks to being based in fact that was not very amusing at all. To his credit, while you could imagine other stars of his age pulling off the role, watching this particular one with the weight of his celebrity and past roles behind him manage to be even halfway convincing was an achievement in itself, having us contemplate if this could happen to Arnie, it could happen to any of us.
It was not a one man show, however, as the narrative also concentrated on the controller, Jacob played by Scoot McNairy who had fast become a handy performer when Americans were needed in films that could not afford too big a star; here Schwarzenegger was the man the production was banking on, so they did not need an actor of equivalent wattage to complement him. McNairy served up a decent enough rendering of a mental breakdown triggered by massive guilt, in danger of losing his own family (wife played by Maggie Grace) when he hits a downward spiral of a fractured psyche, thereby making the ultimate events that closed the film as weighty as possible. This was delivered in a style not nightmarish, though you could well see how it could have taken that option, but weirdly dreamlike, as if the characters were staggering around in the, yes, aftermath of such a terrible occurrence and flailing as they tried to get their bearings; it was like watching people on a ship in a stormy sea, weaving left and right as the floor sways beneath them. For that reason, more of a mood piece than an item of reportage, but most would be watching it for the star. Music by Mark D. Todd.