Don’t see “The Aftermath.” Where do I start? The screenplay is uninspired and predictable. The plot is dull and straightforward, borrowing heavily from the litany of other WWII films. The film tracks the developing romance between Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård, “Straw Dogs”) and Ms. Morgan (Kiera Knightley, “Atonement”), after Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke, “Zero Dark Thirty”) and his wife requisition Lubert’s house in Hamburg after the Allied Victory. What appears to be a half-hearted attempt to infuse the film with meaning through an aversion to Naziism is unsuccessful, leaving “The Aftermath” weak and soulless.
Much of the drama in the film seems exploitative against the post-war backdrop. Out of pity, Lewis allows Stefan and his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann, “Tigermilch”) to stay in the house but asks that they relocate themselves to the cold attic. Lewis is always out, conducting his military work on the streets of Hamburg — streets populated by now-homeless Germans searching for loved ones in the rubble and ashes. Ms. Morgan, lonely and missing her son who died during the Blitz, ends up having sex with Herr Lubert on the dining-room table after her dinner party guests bid goodnight.
This rendezvous flourishes into an affair after the Colonel is called away to the “Russian Zone” to deal with an unnamed Nazi who offers nothing in terms of plot development, aside perhaps from an attempt at showing the Colonel’s merciful nature. While he’s away, Rachel and Stefan don very stylish outfits and go stroll in the woods to Lubert’s well-furnished cabin. Here, they have more sex. During one of these trysts, the viewer is treated to an unexpected and very full-frame shot of Alexander Skarsgård kissing Kiera Knightley’s nipples. Rachel and Stefan plan to run away to the Alps once Lewis returns from his trip. They make it all the way to the train platform before Rachel gets cold feet and runs back to her husband, now that he has proved to her that he actually does miss his dead son. This overused “running away but turning back at the last second” business plays as predictably as you might imagine.
The acting is terrible, though the lackadaisical screenplay might have something to do with that. In particular, Jason Clarke gives a passionless performance. Skarsgård manages to inject fervor here and there, but he leans into stereotypical German stoicism at the expense of originality. Knightley too, adds little of herself to the role; the romantic arc between Rachel and Stefan could easily be plopped into another setting without changing a thing. The Nazi drama is mere ornament. I found myself looking at my watch after only an hour. I feel that it isn’t often that I see a truly bad film. Some things just don’t speak to me (like the recent “Mandy,” starring Nicolas Cage) but I appreciate the aesthetic or literary value. This one, though … yikes.
I’ll give director James Kent (“Testament of Youth.”) one compliment: The filming locations are gorgeous. The German forest and chic cabin, the beautiful wood-paneled great room with a Mies van der Rohe chair and Steinway piano, the river views from the balcony — all gorgeous. Honestly, stitch the b-roll together and you’d have a lovely short film. And a thank you to casting director Arwa Salmanova; Alexander Skarsgård and Kiera Knightley are at the very least nice to look at.
“The Aftermath” is a flop. If you’re into cheesy romance and WWII period pieces, be my guest. If you’re after a thoughtful and original work of art, this is not the film you’re looking for.