Before and After
1996, PG-13, 108 min. Directed by Barbet Schroeder. Starring Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson, Edward Furlong, Julia Weldon, Alfred Molina, John Heard, Ann Magnuson.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., March 1, 1996
Before and After is ostensibly about that precise moment when a person's life changes forever, that immutable point of no return. What the movie really is about, however, is the notion of truth -- or, better yet, the lack thereof -- in our criminal justice system. Taking its cue from the so-called “trial of the century,” Before and After is a reactionary, post-O.J. response to the legal manipulation of the concepts of guilt and reasonable doubt. (There's even a bloody glove here….) Ted Tally's screenplay offers little of the “before” perspective, but plenty of the “after.” A white, upper-middle class family -- the wife and mother is a doctor, the husband and father is an artist -- is turned upside-down when the teenaged son is accused in the death of a classmate. As the unbelieving but rational mother, Streep is credible, but she's not given much to do except wring her hands most of the time. In the role of the father who acts to protect his son at all costs, without much thought to the consequences, Neeson gives the meatier performance. It is, however, a frustrating one -- while you appreciate his anguish, his lion-king roar of defiance is a bit much. Director Schroeder never quite focuses the conflict between these two over the fate of their son and, as a result, the movie ends up grappling with abstractions rather than character. As Before and After suggests, the truth may set you free, but it's an axiom that seems as far removed from this movie as it is seemingly divorced from real experience, if current events are any indication.