Before & After (1996) – Family Ties & Lies
Liam Neeson starred in this 1996 movie with Meryl Streep as well as Edward Furlong who you will recognize from “Terminator 2 – Judgment Day”.
During the opening montage of snowy New England scenes which lead us into the movie, we are shown among other things a critically injured person whose blood stains the snow as well as being visually introduced to Ben Ryan (Neeson) as he welds one of his imposing organic (metal & wood) sculptures.
The story develops as the family searches their home for their son Jacob. The police arrive and are looking for him in connection with the brutal murder of a local girl. Jacob is finally captured, jailed and later released to his family. Obviously there would be tension in a situation like this, but Jacob’s sullen silence is weird. Carolyn’s passive response to the cover-up committed by her husband is disappointing. Ben’s overbearing, loud ranting at his family about how things are going to be makes his character especially unlikable.
The other movie I’ve seen Neeson use this method in was “Taken” when he plays a retired CIA agent trying to over-protect his daughter from afar. I believe his tirades are meant to be impassioned fatherly warnings but come off as shrill “I know more than you do” rants which as any modern parent knows will cause a child to tune them out completely. No one likes to be made to feel small and incapable of taking care of themselves. Children already feel small enough without having it pounded into them. Heart to heart exchanges accomplish so much more than the wrath of God.
Now that I’ve shredded Neeson, let me say that I’ve also liked him very much in some of his other films, most notably “Schindler’s List” in which he plays a wonderfully imperious, but controlled roll and “Love Actually” as a single dad trying to guide his precocious son in pursuing a girl he likes – it would be a really sweet family movie except that the adult themes make it impossible to edit. I do let my girls watch the singing part while I hold the remote, but after that, the DVD player goes off.
“Before and After” takes some twists and turns as the family negotiates the court system and their own relationships and consciences. The movie’s ending leads us to the conclusion that families can heal with proper communication and respect (though why anyone would flee to Miami from New England is beyond me). Streep is believable in her role as a caring mother who loves for her kids.
The questions I walked away with when the movie was over were:
– Why was the rich vs. poor aspect of this movie made to be so important to the story line? It didn’t make a lot of sense and seemed to be more of a distraction than an important element in the story.
– Ben is depicted as an artist, but there is nothing in the story about whether he is successful in selling his work (it’s brought up that they’re rich so I suppose that his prosperity is to be assumed)
– Finally, the pieces of Ben’s art which are displayed on the property remind me of the compasses used by ships captains in old movies – I wonder if they are symbolic of the uncharted territory that the family must negotiate.
Tune in tomorrow for a discussion of Sophie’s Choice and thanks for stopping by!