Alexander Skarsgard

The Aftermath

11/03/19

There have been plenty of movies that concentrate on torrid wartime romances but, as you might guess from its title, The Aftermath is based in that uncertain period just after the end of World War II, when the victorious allied forces were trying to manage their defeated enemy and get them back into some semblance of order – after all but destroying them.

Based amidst the devastated ruins of Hamburg, Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) is one of the luckless officers charged with heading up those efforts and, to ensure that his wife, Rachel (Keira Knightly), can live comfortably alongside him, he commandeers the palatial home of German architect, Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), and his teenage daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann).

Stephen claims he has never been a Nazi sympathiser and he is grieving the loss of his wife, who was killed during the allied bombing of Hamburg. Obliged to live up in the attic, Stephen and Freda can only watch in silent dismay as the British couple attempt to make themselves at home in the main part of their house.

But Rachel is mourning a loss of her own – and it’s quickly apparent that she and her husband are not exactly your average happily married couple. There’s a yawning chasm between them, one that they seem totally unable to cross – and it doesn’t help that Stephen is an attractive young man, who soon begins to cast alluring looks in Rachel’s direction – ones that she cannot help responding to.

The Aftermath is, ultimately,  a somewhat slight melodrama. It’s beautifully acted by the three leads – particularly Knightly, who once again effortlessly disproves the legions of critics who claim her career is based entirely on her looks  – and its evocations of post war Hamburg are convincingly mounted. But the film is lacking in any real depth beyond the tortured love triangle at the core of the story. We are never shown enough of the lives of the other characters who occasionally inhabit the screen. There’s a brief subplot that sees Freda becoming involved with young Hitler supporter, Albert (Jannik Schümann), but that feels underdeveloped – while Martin Compston has a fairly thankless role as Burnham, one of Lewis’s colleagues, a man who clearly thinks that all Germans should be treated as harshly as possible. He’s simply not given enough to do.

There are three credible outcomes for the situation and it’s probably true to say that the scriptwriters have opted for the least daring of them. Ultimately, The Aftermath is perfectly watchable film with a couple of genuinely tear-jerking moments, but I cannot help feeling that, properly handled, it could be so much more than that.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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War On Everyone

null

09/10/16

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh dazzled with his first two movies – The Guard and Calvary, both set in Ireland – but his relocation to New Mexico for the nihilistic War On Everyone has resulted in a decidedly botched end-product. It’s a bit like one of those budget boxes of fireworks you buy cheap after November 5th – sure, there are some stunning pyrotechnics in the box, but there’re also a lot of damp squibs and even a few complete duds.

Bob and Terry (in what may or may not be a knowing nod to The Likely Lads) are a pair of corrupt cops, careering gleefully around their home town, taking bribes, sharing class A drugs with their perps and mercilessly beating up anybody who stands in their way. Much of this is presented as knockabout comedy, though most of it is very hard to laugh at. Bob (Michael Pena) appears to be the brains of the operation, a man as likely to start discussing philosophy in the course of his duties, as he is to read the Miranda rights. Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) is a hulking boy child who idolises Bob and doesn’t have much in his life, other than an addiction to the songs of Glenn Campbell and a complete belief in his partner’s genius. When the two men are sent to investigate a stabbing, they start to uncover a high-level crime syndicate, headed up by the suave and cultured Lord James Mangan (Theo James, channelling a young Rupert Everett). Much blood, gunfire and reckless driving ensues…

This is a film that will inevitably divide audiences. It’s true that there are inspired moments here – a scene where the two cops stand over a stabbed man, while his wife sobs helplessly in the background, yet somehow can’t stop themselves from eating burgers is brilliant; likewise the scene where Terry waltzes new girlfriend, Jackie (Tessa Thompson) around his empty flat to the strains of Rhinestone Cowboy is an unexpected joy amidst all the senseless violence and destruction – but for every scene that impresses, there’s also an artless collection of ‘jokes’ about Islam, gays, blacks and women, that are so stunningly inappropriate that it beggars belief – it’s as though McDonagh is trying so hard to be ‘cool’ that he’s lost all sense of quality control and, overall, the film suffers for his woeful lack of insight.

This is a shame because there are enough excellent moments here to convince you that the film could have been superb, if only McDonagh had managed to rein in some of its baser elements. As it stands, this can only be described as a great big missed opportunity.

3 stars

Philip Caveney