How much can one forgive, for the sake of a pretty face?
That’s the question this critic finds herself asking in the aftermath of “The Aftermath.” It’s a pretty film with all the right individual pieces, but things just don’t line up for a great overall product.
“The Aftermath” stars Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgård and is directed by James Kent.
Let’s begin with a synopsis:
In the aftermath of World War II, a British colonel, Lewis Morgan (Clarke) and his wife Rachel Morgan (Knightley) are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction. But tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house including Stephen Lubert (Skarsgård), and within each of the characters as they face the realities and consequences of the new world they inhabit.
“The Aftermath,” based on a novel by the same name, is just as thematically rich and literary as one would hope. It’s also incredibly aptly named, as “The Aftermath” is, above all, a story of these stricken individuals trying to make the most out of the remains (the aftermath, if you will) of their former happiness.
The themes of loss and grief are very prevalent in “The Aftermath.” Every character has lost something vitally important, like a child, a partner, a home, and even a sense of certainty and belonging. Every character must grapple with prejudices and the desire to blame the world around them, while also trying to find a means of healing from their trauma.
Nothing is quite as it was intended to be and, because of that, there is the potential for renewal.
The film does a beautiful job balancing both the loss and the reprieve that comes from healing. Moments of “The Aftermath” are equally heartbreaking and hopeful. It takes the viewer down the same path of emotional conflict that we observe in the characters.
I’d like to direct your attention back to the adjective “literary.” Like any great novel, “The Aftermath” very richly breathes life into these very human elements. It makes for a film that pulls at the emotions. But that does not exempt it from falling upon tired tropes.
The ebb and flow of the film is so predictable, and that dulls the shine of its finer points. It should have remained a book.
Aside from spinning one hell of a thematic, albeit frustrating, thread, it’s a gorgeous film. The set pieces are rich. There are almost too many details to take in, all at once, and the film thrives on sharp contrasts.
Opulence and ruin. Passion in its most violent and lustful forms. Propriety and recklessness.
The intrigue continues into the cinematography. A fascinating feature of the film is the use of color and texture. Overall, the setting of “The Aftermath” is bleak. You can feel the heaviness of the circumstances in the very environment and the whole world seems drained of liveliness.
This is pleasantly broken up by pops of warmth and color in the set pieces and costumes. It’s a small detail but it speaks so perfectly to the thesis of the piece: hope and joy can sometimes occur as just a blip on the radar, but it is always vibrant.
No doubt, “The Aftermath” is as effective as it is due to the great cast and performances.
Knightley is the perfect choice for the conflicted Rachael Morgan. Not only in raw talent and ability to execute such a complex character, but down to her very physicality. In scenes she comes off as fragile and slight, but is still so striking that you can’t help but be swept up.
However, I give the most props to Clarke as Lewis Morgan. In perhaps the bleakest role in the entirety of the film, Clarke brings incredible emotional depth and expertly executes what has often proven difficult: How to show oceans of pain and nuance under a rock solid and unyielding countenance?
It’s a performance that is pulled taut like a bowstring and perfectly balanced for it — one that is sure to hold a place in my memory and recognition for a very long time.
Unfortunately, these great performances are subject to the cliches of the script, which may be a bit of a turn off for some.
“The Aftermath” is perfectly adequate. On the whole, it may not impress but it surely does not disappoint. It’s a classic case of the parts being greater than the sum. And that’s fine.
After all, if the film’s resolution tells us anything, it’s that indulgent exploration leads to openness and forgiveness.
My verdict? It’s a lovely film that provides a pleasant distraction. Come for the romance and stay for Clarke and Knightley.
“The Aftermath” is in theaters now. Get more movie reviews and news here!
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.