As the film begins, Jake (Scoot McNairy) is an air traffic controller with ideal wife Christina (Maggie Grace) and adorable ten-year-old son Samuel (Judah Nelson). Arnold is a construction crew foreman eagerly awaiting the return of his wife and pregnant daughter from the Ukraine.
An overworked Jake is unable to prevent the catastrophic air crash that kills Arnold's closest family members. Both Jake and Arnold are mired in grief and quit their jobs. Arnold becomes a local handyman. Jake plots suicide but changes his mind. He moves out of state under an assumed name to avoid reporters and relatives of the bereaved. His wife and son have left him.
A year passes. Arnold is contacted by a journalist (Hannah Ware), who wants to publish his story. In return, he obtains the address of the air traffic controller "responsible" for his family's death. Arnold arrives at Jake's apartment shortly after the latter has reconciled with his wife. Further tragedy ensues.
How others will see it. This bleak drama is likely to disappoint those who retain in interest in Arnold Schwarzenegger, two decades after his cinematic heyday. Mostly, his movies were in action and comedy genres, concepts alien to the present low budget and slow-moving character study.
Aftermath had only a negligible worldwide theatrical release. The downbeat film was a commercial dud. Nonetheless, likely due to Arnold's fame, the movie has a respectable 16K user votes at imdb.com. Interestingly, there are far more non-U.S. voters than U.S. voters: 8K versus 1.5K. This is because the actual airplane collision occurred in Germany, and the disgruntled family member (Arnold's character) was Russian. The story was extensively covered in Europe, and ignored in America, which was instead focused on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At imdb.com, the user ratings are only 5.6 out of 10. But among the most helpful user reviews, a surprising percentage are positive, and praise Arnold's dramatic acting.
How I felt about it. This is one depressing movie. Arnold remains charismatic, but his performance here is mostly stultifying. One feels sorry for his character's loss, but his refusal to build a new life, and his motivation to punish someone for his loss, are disappointments.
Jake is far more sympathetic. He was overworked, there were difficulties with the communications equipment, and he was also a victim of bad luck. (The air traffic control management should have mandated the presence of two or more controllers at all times.) Nonetheless, Jake shows remorse. He is devastated by the lives lost.
Aftermath is not entertaining, but there are great movies that are equally depressing, such as The Thin Red Line (1998), Schindler's List (1993), and Room at the Top (1959).
But very few films are comparable in quality to those masterpieces, and Aftermath certainly is not. Blame falls upon workmanlike director Elliot Lester and the somnolent performance of former box office kingpin Scwarzenegger.