The Aftermath (2019)

Directed by James Kent
Written by Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse & Rhidian Brook

World War II is a very popular subject for entertainment. It, of course, was a horrific tim period in history, and thus ripe with tons of compelling, dramatic, and incredible stories to be told. I don’t think it’s a backdrop that will make its way out of the cinematic experience any time soon, and The Aftermath is just another in a long line of films which use the War and it’s “aftermath” as the setting for the story it’s telling. In this instance, the war helps create the tension between the characters, but is otherwise a romance story gone awry. If only the film could have been as engaging as the premise.

Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) has just been assigned to Hamburg after the conclusion of the war. A British officer, he has been afforded the occupancy of the grand house of a German architect, Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard). Accommodating, and perhaps a little too forgiving, Lewis lets Lubert and his teenage daughter (Flora Thiemann) to stay on at the house, which creates tension with Rachael, Lewis’ wife who has just arrived to join her husband. But what starts as tension between Rachael and Lubert soon turns into attraction as she settles into her new life, building a whole new type of tension between the three main characters.

This film does a good job of initially building the platform for a decent romantic drama with a tense wartime backdrop, but along the way it drops the ball, seemingly having no ambition to build on its promising scenario. Instead, it settles into a far too even tempered, melodramatic telling of a conventional story with no real roots, nothing convincing. I think much of this starts with the lackluster direction by James Kent, who manages to simultaneously lack subtlety in his narrative while also failing to give us any sort of stylistic flourish to enhance the visual or emotional experience.

The performances are likewise disjointed in some fashion or another. Keira Knightley, as ever, is melodramatic to match the material, but her counterparts feel as though they are doing something completely different, making her performance stand out even more like a sore thumb. Alexander Skarsgard plays the German architect Lubert in such an understated way I’m still not sure he has any emotions at all. But his performance, in pairing with Knightley, makes the eventual attraction all the more baffling. Then there is Clarke, who I usually like. Here he seems to be trying to match Knightley, but he fails miserably in his attempt at melodrama, resulting in a nothing of a performance.

And that is the main theme with most of the movie: nothing. Nothing comes of the intriguing story. Nothing comes even of the side story with Lubert’s daughter, other than a rushed delivery. Nothing in the film seems earned, which makes the experience one without reward. There is nothing truly offensive about the film, but there is also nothing to take away from it. It is a film which comes and goes with shocking ease, never challenging the viewer or even trying too hard to engage them. I’m not even sure the most ardent Keira Knightley fans will find something of worth in this extremely forgettable film.

★★ – Didn’t Like It

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

2 comments

  • Adam: I get that you don’t like the film. That’s fine. But what I can’t quite parse are your comments about the lead actress. When you say that she, as ever, is melodramatic to match the material, do you mean to say that she and her material have always been melodramatic throughout her career — which I don’t think is accurate –, or rather do you mean that she, as ever, gauges her performance to match the material, which is in this case a melodrama?

    Then, in placing her performance next to the two male leads who are more, shall we say, subdued, you say she stands out even more like a sore thumb. Is this meant to suggest she was a sore thumb to begin with, and now even more so? If so, you haven’t really established the underlying premise, i.e., her intrinsic sore thumbness. Or are you rather saying that the inadequacies of her co-stars tend to cast an unfavorable spotlight on her melodramatic performance — which would be more acceptable with better support?

    I sort of get the idea that you are trying to say she does a decent job with what she’s given, but she is not getting enough good help to sell it. Is that a correct reading?

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    • Derwiddian, thank you for your comment!

      Yes, you’ve got it, I wish I had explained that a little better. I often see Knightley at her best in her more melodramatic roles, and she is up to the task here, but it is her male counterparts whose performances bring the whole film down. With their lackluster performances, Knightley then stands in contrast to them, which is why I said she sticks out like a sore thumb. But I believe this is not her fault at all. The film would have benefitted by a more consistent ensemble that would have matched the material.

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