Before Liam Neeson turned people into punching bags, he starred alongside the likes of Meryl Streep in compassionate dramas. It’s not hard to see why he started punching people.
Before and After has the angle on this tale of possible murder, the perspective planted on Streep and Neeson as two parents whose son may have committed a murder. It’s primed for emotional turmoil, the parents split on what angles to play or what actions to take. Their small town revolts, one step below pitchforks and torches. At least through the generations we’ve become a little more civilized, the torches replaced with seething news cameras, pitchforks with rocks through the window.
Issues here are not with the performances, Streep’s B-game still credentials higher than most actresses A, and Neeson is stone-faced as an angered, frustrated, yet compassionate father. Julia Weldon as the young daughter can be excused on age alone.
Then there’s a young Edward Furlong, a few years removed from Terminator 2 and into more challenging material. He’s on edge and as emotional as his parents, holding the truth in his mind while his elders split on what to do in front of the jury.
That’s where Before and After goes wrong, that back-and-forth turmoil handled with complacency, not tension. There’s no sense of dread or repercussions to either side, the film choosing a strict focus on the family. This dry narrative is one note, and eschews the courtroom drama with the exception of a final twist in the hands of the jury. Long before then, the film has already lost.
Most of the film, from an audience perspective, is spent waiting for the inevitable something that never comes. One comes to expect a script twisting shocker, and when it doesn’t, Before and After is shuffled to the level of made-for-TV drama that happened to catch the eye of named actors.
Captured in the snowy realm of Massachusetts, Before and After doesn’t feel chilled. The snow, which covers a little of everything, never shows any signs of contrast bursting free. Whites feel clipped and certainly murky, which dulls the entire image. Snow appears more like dust than anything.
Without a boost from the contrast, Mill Creek’s Blu-ray debut for this 1996 catalog feature dies right before your eyes. Images are branded pasty, sort of like the flesh tones which feel as if they have no color to them at all. Even for a drama, wherein bright colors are more a detriment, Before and After feels lifeless.
Things limp along on the heels of a dated, fuzzy master that barely appears ready for the resolution afforded by Blu-ray. It’s a soft, meager looking piece that here, would indicate little respect for production design. Neeson’s character works as an artist, working with large scale metals, and his workshop is lost to the murkiness of the transfer.
Further proving bothersome is the compression, taking the grain structure and amplifying it beyond its breaking point. It feels like a dominating part of the image because it is, more so than fine details. The film stock feels captured by a swarm of unfriendly invaders. The odd speck of dirt isn’t worth the effort to mention it, although the often deplorable judder deserves a nod. So do the halos, which appear as more of an optical/age issue than anything Mill Creek did.
The DTS-HD mix isn’t playing with much, the 5.1 soundspace given sparse room to move, and even less material to pass. At best, the score will swell to marginally fill in the rears, as if it feels sorry for their boredom. One action scene, that of a yard fire, doesn’t bother catching the subwoofer to let the flames sprout up. The best stuff is negated to a prison visit, where voices echo and doors slam to capture the emptiness of the room.
Sixteen years separation between theatrical and Blu-ray releases hasn’t sprouted any audible defects within the source. A scratchy, hollow conversation in a tree house (53:00) sounds more like intent than any fading, more so considering it doesn’t creep into the dialogue anywhere else. It’s merely an element that sticks out.
The trailer is the sole bonus for a film most have likely forgotten.
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