The story looks like it’s about post-World War II and a British married couple, the husband being a British officer in the army, is reunited in Germany, but it’s been awhile, so things are a tad awkward. They move into a house owned by a German dude who lost his wife during the war and tensions start high until the husband leaves, leaving her alone with the German dude. But the longer the two stay together, the more they get to know each other and begin a romance.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Keira Knightley (COLETTE , PIRATES 5 , COLLATERAL BEAUTY , EVEREST , BEGIN AGAIN , and STAR WARS: PHANTOM ), Alexander Skarsgård (THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT , TARZAN , and upcoming films LONG SHOT  and GODZILLA VS. KONG ), Jason Clarke (SERENITY , FIRST MAN , KNIGHT/CUPS , TERMINATOR GENISYS , and upcoming films PET SEMATARY  and THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME ) and Kate Phillips (LITTLE STRANGER , and the upcoming DOWNTON ABBEY ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have James Kent, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Co-writing the screenplay, a red flag total of three writers, we have duo Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (RACE , and the upcoming AGAINST ALL ENEMIES ), and the author of the book that this movie is based on, Rhidian Brook (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of). One of the producers is Ridley Scott, known for ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), MORGAN (2016), CONCUSSION (2015), and upcoming films EARTHQUAKE BIRD (2019) and JUNGLELAND (2019). Composing the score is Martin Phipps, known for HARRY BROWN (2009). The cinematographer is Franz Lustig, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Beverley Mills, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Overall, this looks… pretty melodramatic, actually. I mean, I feel like I have this movie pegged. Knightley’s marriage to Clarke is rocky because they’ve been separated for so long, and it’s only made worse when they have to bunk with Skarsgård. But because Clarke leaves again, she feels abandoned and learns that Skarsgård is charming, hence the affair. But that’s all in the trailer. The question is, does this end with one of the men dying, or… even more ballsy, her? I don’t know, I think I’m going to be mostly bored with it. Only the charm of the actors will save it, and even that looks like it’s going to be hit or miss.
This is my honest opinion of: THE AFTERMATH
Set in postwar Germany, circa 1945. British woman Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) has just arrived to meet her husband, Colonel Lewis (Jason Clarke), whom she hasn’t seen in a long time. They have taken up temporary residence in a large home, owned by the kindly German Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård). However, the residency is less than ideal. Even though both Stephen and Lewis are on civil terms, Rachael has not forgiven the Germans for their part in the war, and is less than kind and civil toward Stephen. But as Lewis is constantly out of the house doing his job in trying to help the Germans rebuild, tensions between Rachael and Stephen rise. At first, hostility, then sexually, then eventually, romantically when Lewis has to take an extended trip for work for a few days.
Hmm… still processing, but where I’m sitting now, it’s… not good, but not bad either.
At the core of the story, it’s a romantic triangle. To this movie’s credit, it knows how to present this triangle in a far better way than I’ve seen done in a very long time. For me, the theory is that either both of the romantic interests have to be decent people, making it impossible for the audience to predict who the “chooser” is going to end up with, or one of them is such a manipulative dick-weed that we root for the interest that is a decent person. However, I’ve rarely seen this done well. For example, both the Hunger Games and Twilight movies fail at their concept of “two good men.” In Hunger Games, Peeta is a sweet-natured guy, almost saintly, whereas Gale is too assertive with his emotions toward Katniss and evolves into someone who is too violent to be a viable romantic option. Hence, it’s painfully obvious that she would end up with Peeta. The same goes for Bella in Twilight, except in that Edward is a dumb and cowardly flake, and Jacob is a spiteful one-track-minded child, so no matter who she ends up with, it’s laughably stupid. This movie doesn’t do any of that. Both Lewis and Stephen are legitimately good men who are kind, polite, civil, gracious, and all around stand-up men. Lewis just wants to help rebuild a country that he acknowledges suffered under British attacks and wants to put the war behind him. Stephen, while being German, has never supported the Nazi party, is not always recognized for his kindly nature, and is constantly judged just for being German. Yet, he never raises his soft-spoken voice, despite every understandable opportunity to do so. He’s restrained and an otherwise understanding person, unless someone crosses his threshold. So, I give this movie credit, I had no idea who Rachael would, or even should, end up with.
However, here’s my issue with the triangle. The romance between Rachael and Stephen comes out of nowhere. There is barely any lean in to it. Stephen comes home after practically being attacked by British officers giving him a questionaire, only to have Rachael yell at him for an offensive painting intended to cover up a blank space where a previous painting existed, and demands that she throw him and his teenage daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) out of their house to live in a camp. To give her extra incentive, he plants one right on Rachael. Aside from a slap from her, there are no consequences for his actions. We know that Rachael and Lewis have a troubled marriage from being apart for so long, and him barely being around even now, but the sexual and romantic tension is never addressed. Rachael gives no sign that she finds Stephen attractive. Hell, she downright hates him. Yet, one random-ass kiss later, and the next time they interact, they start fucking. None of this is justified or earned. Sure, she feels sorry for him for having lost his wife in a bombing from the British, but she went right back on to treating him like crap. The build-up to their romantic tension was rushed. I’m sure in order to properly build it up would have required a bigger budget and a longer shooting schedule, but from a narrative standpoint, that time was needed to for audiences to really get behind the affair. Instead of being a passionate surrender to sexual desires, it comes off like that cliché where a couple fights back and forth, “I hate you, no, I hate you” only to make out furiously a second later, just dragged out over the course of two separate scenes. Because of this, the movie is crippled.
This doesn’t necessarily make the movie bad, per se. Make no mistake, this movie has its great moments. Knightley practically owns this movie, going through a serious gauntlet of emotions that really give her some meat to chew on. Rachael is awkward trying to show Lewis affection, she constantly gives Stephen the cold shoulder, maintaining composure as she tries to communicate with the German staff that she wrestles with guilt when they have an affair, she’s absolutely amazing. My favorite scene is when she’s playing on Stephen’s wife’s piano and both Stephen and Freda spectate. Freda joins in and the two kind of have a bonding moment of their own. Rachael breaks down crying, explaining what she experienced and lost during the war. This scene is gut-wrenching, only slightly ruined when it’s only Stephen who comforts her, and not both him and Freda comforting her. Skarsgård definitely has his charm about him. His best scene is when he’s raising his voice at Rachael when she complains about the painting. He never truly shouts, but you feel every drip of anger and frustration over the borderline insults he suffered through no more than a scene ago. But you feel his discomfort around Rachael early on, despite only trying to be accommodating and helpful, only to be brushed away. And of course Clarke is a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t even feel like he’s acting, but rather vanishing into his performance. One of my favorite scenes with him is when he’s talking to a young soldier in their car and the boy admits that he doesn’t think he would be able to kill a German prisoner, and that his father tries to insult him by saying that he doesn’t have a spine to be a soldier. Lewis smiles and simply says that he should take it as a compliment instead. It’s a small moment, but a sweet one between soldiers trying to move on from a terrible war, but still dealing with the proverbial fallout.
But also make no mistake, for every positive thing I can say about this movie, I can say there’s still a few issues. Half of Thiemann’s performance is so robotic that I was almost getting frustrated as to why so much screen time was dedicated to her. Sure, as Freda bonds with Rachael, her acting picks up, so I’m going to blame it on the director, but the character is such a typical teenage rebel type that I almost didn’t care about what kind of trouble she ended up getting herself into. Plus, her entire subplot ultimately amounts to pure fluff and has no impact on the story. There’s also bizarre and tone-deaf moments where Rachael and Stephen are whimsically having a snowball fight outside, and he’s tickling her feet in a cabin. It’s like… Jesus, in a few minutes, we’re going to get a scene involving remaining Nazi supporters plotting against Lewis. Keep these scenes in freakin’ Disney movies, please.
Overall, this movie is… okay. On the one hand, I appreciate that it has an understanding of what it means to do a romantic triangle properly, where others of this genre fail entirely. The trio of leads are really good, Knightley definitely stealing the show, and some good cinematography to boot, this movie has good, and even great moments. However, the romance between Rachael and Stephen is rushed and not enough time is given to them to really develop a relationship that I was able to properly grasp. Being the crux of the story, that’s a painful misstep. Still, as a recommendation, I say it’s worth it as a rental. If you like the cast, you’ll get something out of it, but it’s not quite worth it as a theatrical viewing.
My honest rating for THE AFTERMATH: a strong 3/5
This week’s reviews:
- THE MUSTANG
- CAPTIVE STATE
- FIVE FEET APART
- WONDER PARK
- THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT
- NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE
- NO MANCHES FRIDA 2: PARAÍSO DESTRUIDO
- PLAIRE, AIMER ET COURIR VITE / SORRY ANGEL
- FAITH, HOPE & LOVE
Next week’s reviews: