Set in Germany post World War II, “The Aftermath” brought a promising twist on a story of forbidden love. With themes of loss, love and destruction, the film dug into multiple conflicts but never deep enough to evoke emotional investment.
Directed by James Kent (“Testament of Youth,” “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister”), the film begins with English Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) traveling to the bombed and broken city of Hamburg, Germany. Action packed trailers suggested historical elements were integral to the plot, but developmental shortcomings of historical conflicts made for a disappointment.
After a bland reunion between Rachael and her husband, Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), the pair travel to a gorgeous mansion the English acquired during war. The German, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), previously owned the mansion but he and his daughter Freda (Flora Theimann) still reside in the house out of the goodness of Lewis’s heart.
Rachael’s disinterest with her husband — and longing gazes from Lubert — blatantly foreshadow a love affair between her and the stern, handsome German.
Rachael starts out stiff and angry with an intense hostility and distrust toward Germans. Knightly then pulls off a seamless, slow transition when letting go of built up tensions caused by trauma.
Pain from Morgan’s lost son fuels Knightley’s impressive, theatrical performance. Her pain radiates when her eyes fill with water as she breaks down on a piano bench and finds comfort in Lubert. But the somber scene fails to evoke emotion when the son’s history isn’t expanded beyond an 11-year-old who admired playing the piano and was killed in a fiery explosion.
The lack of background and character development was the cause of scenes like this falling flat. The film was stuck in the mourning and drama of past hardships, leaving audiences deprived of action. Scenes of violence and deaths were short and involved people irrelevant to the plot.
The relationship between Rachael and Lubert — what’s supposed to be the main focus — was mostly filled with heated sex scenes and not enough evidence of a deep emotional connection during their quickly escalated relationship. There wasn’t even enough romance to categorize it as a guilty pleasure romance movie.
Lubert’s past as a privileged German in World War II had a lot of potential to make for an interesting storyline. Digging into his history could have made audiences better grasp his character while learning about many Germans’ ignorance of Hitler’s actions during this time period. Lubert testifies to English soldiers he was never a part of the Nazi Party, but with the scene lasting all of 60 seconds, Kent threw away yet another opportunity to add depth to characters’ history.
Skarsgård picked up some slack with a consistent stiff yet warm demeanour that depicted a kind-hearted soul wounded by the loss of his wife. Scenes of Lubert angrily scolding his rebellious daughter displayed his overwhelming fear of losing someone close to him again.
Skarsgård’s performance painted a picture of his character when the script neglected to. His sorrow was painted on his face, but a glimpse into his personal experience would have likely evoked more emotions from the audience.
But “The Aftermath” works with an exceptional production. The cinematographer, Franz Lustig, perfectly set the tone with outstanding shots in the snowy town and the beautifully monumental, white ‘40s mansion. Including a grand piano and modern decor, most of the film takes place in the dreamhouse and there are few scenes that include the destroyed city. But scenes with dark coloring and composition capture a somber, post-war setting.
Exceptional production and acting performances make for a decent experience, but the anticlimactic plot and missed historical opportunities will likely leave audiences unsatisfied.
“The Aftermath,” rated R, is showing in theaters nationwide.