It’s hard to believe that a single element could almost sink an entire movie…but it happens.
While The Aftermath is not without some interesting elements, it almost crumbles into a million pieces thanks to one story arc that is handled in such a clumsy fashion that it almost disintegrates the rest of the narrative.
In 1946 postwar Germany, Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision: They will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter. In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.
There are some really interesting character driven elements about The Aftermath as it highlights some of the natural tendencies of distrust in the wake of the kind of conflict that World War II brought about where there truly is no winner and how it can change people as well as their families but it along side it we also get a passionate love story that comes across so ham-handed and clunky that you won’t be able to stifle your laughter while watching it unfold.
Based on a novel by Rhidian Brook (who also co-adapted it for the screen alongside Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse) is far too scattershot and really doesn’t know where to focus itself. Is it a political thriller? Is it an erotic tale of forbidden love? Is it social commentary on the human costs of war? Sure, why not? It all plays out in a very disjointed fashion that never allows us to get any emotional connection to the characters. There are great ideas in this film, but the execution of them just sucks and while we can blame some of it at the feet of the writing, more of the blame has to rest with director James Kent.
In his defense, the film is incredibly stylized with great use of shadow and colour that would make the likes of Powell & Pressburger proud, but it never knows what story to focus on. While for a few moments we start to get interested in the story of the men policing this war torn state and their inherent distrust for all Germans who they assume were Nazi’s, we then cut back to Keira Knightley staring out a window trying to look all forlorn and smoldery at the same time, then we cut to her and Alexander Skarsgård to watch their awkward attempts at developing some sexual chemistry, and so on and so forth. The film does it so much that it’s actually kind of maddening until all the stories come to a head in the final act.
I’ll admit to actually liking Keira Knightley’s body of work, but these severe period pieces aren’t doing her any favors. She goes through the motions of this emotionally damaged yet proper English woman who pushes back against the established norms when she sees a need in herself to move past the tragedies of her past and move forward with her life. It’s not a bad performance per say, but the limp material just paints her into a corner that she has played in before. Alexander Skarsgård is severe and awkward through most of the film, which does actually fit his character but it’s not like we give a damn about seeing it while Jason Clarke actually delivers the strongest work as a stoic solider on the brink that can see how tenuous the life that he used to know before the war actually is and his desire to push past the conflict inside of him.
The Aftermath wants to be many things, without knowing what it actually is and despite the occasional positive note is far too much of a mess to really resonate on any kind of meaningful level.