Released: 23rd April
Seen: 3rd May
So, this one is going to be exceptionally hard to write about. In general, when a movie gives me a lot to work with it’s fairly easy to sit here and explain why it does or doesn’t work. A particularly good or bad film can almost create its own review through sheer excitement or revulsion. What’s a lot more difficult to write about are movies where I feel absolutely nothing, not a shred of emotion either for or against the film. A generic boring slog will always be the hardest thing to write about because while describing why the movie is a generic boring slog, I have to attempt to ensure that this review isn’t a generic boring slog… though it does help when the boring film shouldn’t actually be boring based upon its subject matter.
The Aftermath is set in Post World War II Germany, following a British couple who are there to help with the reconstruction. The couple consists of young housewife Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) and her husband, Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) who take over the home that was owned by Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard). For reasons that are… reasons, Rachael and Lewis allow Stephen and his daughter to stay in the home with them. With all of them under one roof, and Colonel Lewis constantly going out into the mainland of Germany to help break up protests and stop leftover Nazi plots, naturally this leaves plenty of time for Stephen and Rachael to do a lot of sexing with each other because that is the majority of the remainder of the plot.
Conceptually this movie has got a lot of big story ideas that should make for a gripping film. It’s about adultery and romance, there’s a lot of dealing with the reality of World War II, there’s a subplot about radicalization and revenge and of course, sexy sex. This should all be fascinating, engrossing and maybe even a little tawdry. In other hands, it absolutely would be all of these things but here? It’s the blandest thing that I’ve seen on screen in a very long time, and I’m very much including the times I’ve turned up half an hour early and stared at a blank screen. Everything about this movie just feels perfunctory, even the sex scenes that you’d think should be filled with some form of passion but are just… there. They exist, but that’s about it.
Every beat of the movie feels like they’re following a set checklist of things that one is meant to do in a film about an affair. We kiss at minute 32, they touch at minute 37, have sex at 47. If you have ever seen any movie about a woman who sleeps with someone else to escape a loveless marriage then congrats, you know every single beat of this film and they just casually go between them. Sometimes not even casual, the first passionate encounter is interrupted when Colonel Lewis comes home a little earlier than normal. In a good version of this movie, Rachael and Stephen would hear the door opening downstairs and we would see their frantic attempt to redress, straighten their clothes up, react to the chance that they might be caught but all that is cut out, we just cut from them about to hump on top of a table to the door opening and then cut back and they have the awkward “We weren’t doing anything” looks on their faces. This kind of weird edit happens a few times where it feels like the actual reactions to things happening have been removed.
This isn’t to say the film isn’t without some good; the main actors are perfectly fine. There’s an entire subplot where Stephens daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) falls for a boy who is still loyal to the Nazi party and she slowly falls for him, culminating in her stealing from Colonel Lewis to show loyalty to the boy she’s falling for. It’s at the cusp of an interesting idea where she is almost radicalised into being a Nazi by a guy she likes which would not only be a great bit of drama but allow for some social commentary (Since being radicalised by Nazi’s is, sadly, still a thing). There are several scenes where we’re confronted with the uncomfortable idea that there were a substantial amount of people living in Germany who were against what Hitler did, but still had to give the appearance of being loyal because that’s what you do in a dictatorship… well, I say “We’re confronted”, more like “It’s heavily implied by never actually pushed to its full potential because then they’re asking the audience to think about something”. They also show off the damage that the final bomb drop did to Germany and how many were killed and, again, this is an interesting and confronting idea that could make for a great moment. Sadly, we can’t linger on this heavy emotional stuff that might be interesting because we have to get to a scene in a hotel where a bunch of British people talk while wearing fancy dresses.
The Aftermath manages to tear boredom out of the jaws of something interesting. It takes clever concepts and great actors and finds a way to turn them into cardboard that occasionally speaks in an accent. When the visuals aren’t being generic, they’re missing or they’re bad. There was potential here, there’s a good story that was ready to be told and could’ve used this exact same cast but it was hampered on the way so instead of an interesting romantic drama set in a moment of historic upheaval, we got… a movie that exists, if I’m being obscenely kind in my description.