No matter your opinion of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a person, you can't deny this: The man is a doer. And in Elliott Lester's grief drama Aftermath, the ripped Renaissance man does a subtle, absorbing performance of despair so unlike his other work that his lined and laden face at times seems nearly unrecognizable on that bulging body. This is Arnold?
Here he stars as Roman, a construction foreman whose family gets killed in a plane crash. The story necessitates ceaseless sadness, which can grind, but for the most part Aftermath glides just above the wreckage with its leads' performances. Lester, however, can't resist throwing in some easy, cheesy symbolism to slop it up.
Roman, too, is a doer. Without revealing his connection, he volunteers at the crash site to search for remains; the moment he finds his daughter strapped into a seat belt and hanging from a tree isn't milked for more drama than need be but affords Arnold his moment of sincere sobbing. Alternately, we're fed the storyline of Jacob (Scoot McNairy), the air-traffic controller who's in the hot seat. McNairy's overshadowed by his bearded-and-burly costar's anguish acrobatics, but we see glints of greatness.
On a metaphorical level, Javier Gullón's script handles these two characters just like the planes that collided mid-flight: We know they will meet, and that whatever they've tried to do to correct their patterns will ultimately explode in a horrific way. Yes, it's utterly strange to see Schwarzenegger emoting on such a raw level and framed with such gritty cinematography as he zombie-walks through his days, but it works -- Arnold may have just reinvented his career yet again.