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Review: Arnold Schwarzenegger dials it down for grief drama ‘Aftermath’

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Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film “Aftermath.”
(Brian Douglas / Lionsgate Premiere)

The meditative grief drama “Aftermath” features Arnold Schwarzenegger pulling a “reverse Neeson.” While Liam Neeson injected new blood into his career with the action-packed “Taken” franchise, Schwarzenegger turns away from his tough-guy roots with a serious dramatic performance in a film that simmers with tension, rather than explodes.

Working from a script by Javier Gullón, director Elliott Lester weaves a tragic yet subdued tale of parallel lives connected by one horrific accident. Schwarzenegger is Roman, a man who loses his wife and daughter in a plane crash; Scoot McNairy plays Jacob, the air traffic controller who is inadvertently responsible for the disaster. In the wake of the accident, the two men lead their broken lives on a slow collision course.

In the first half of the film, Lester wisely underplays the dramatic moments, focusing on the ironic banality of disaster and tragedy: the muted conversations, sterile airport rooms, horrific legalese. Both McNairy and Schwarzenegger give excellent, nuanced performances as men stunned into the silence of unspeakable, irreconcilable sorrow. The scene of McNairy in the air traffic control tower as the event unfolds is particularly compelling.

But “Aftermath” can’t quite sustain its controlled tone, relying on operatic melodrama and limp plot twists as it concludes in an uneasy resolution.

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‘Aftermath’

Rated: R for a scene of violence.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maggie Grace star in “Aftermath.” Inspired by true events, the movie is about two strangers whose lives are bound together after a plane crash.

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