Aftermath ★★

Arnold’s latest old-man revenge flick has pretensions to nuance, with a suitably drab visual tone, not to mention the lead’s conspicuous fragility in his dotage. But the lines are clearly drawn from the outset, and its manipulation is boldfaced.

Roman (Schwarzenegger) is a Good Man seeking old-school restitution for the loss of his family in a plane crash, for which he — and the audience, by proxy — deem weedy geek air traffic controller Jacob (Scoot McNairy) directly responsible. In spite of, you know, things like the systemic malpractice the film invents to build its straw man. (The ATC privatisation lobby will be delighted, I’m sure.)

Roman is a caricature of a grieving father. His obsession is selfish to the extreme: he literally couldn’t give a hoot about the lives destroyed beyond his own family. And the audience isn’t supposed to either — even when it comes to Jacob’s wife and child, who did nothing to deserve such opprobrium. Why is the audience expected to be on Roman’s side? Because he’s a Real Man who builds fences and shit. The semiotics aren’t exactly subtle.

Jacob, meanwhile, is set up as such a bogeyman, the personification of ‘big government’ incompetence, that the film simply accepts the vigilante ‘justice’ against him and his loved ones as a thing, unquestioned. It’s not his fault, the suits tell him, but it really is, because someone who graffitis his house says so.

Don’t even get me started on the regressive treatment of mental illness, and the overtones of suicide as the coward’s way out. Fuck. That.