The absurdly wrong poster for After the Fall — which shows Wes Bentley toting a gun in front of the American flag, a scar visible on his left cheek — promises a tacky VOD actioner in the Nicolas Cage mode. In truth, however, the movie is a sincere, dialed-in character study — light on shoot-’em-ups, heavy on moral and emotional reflection. Some context explains this discrepancy: First-time co-writer/director Saar Klein is a veteran editor whose résumé includes two Terrence Malick films
(The Thin Red Line and The New World).
Malick receives a “special thanks” credit here, and rightfully so — his fingerprints (or at least the influence of them) are all over this movie. When insurance agent Bill Scanlon (Bentley) asks his son, “You want to be a man, don’t you?” it resembles the kind of forceful inquiries Brad Pitt leveled at his children in The Tree of Life.
More substantially, there is an obsession with water (the Scanlons’ pool is a core visual motif), an enveloping sense of place (the movie was shot in parched New Mexico), and a preference for pictorial spontaneity over fully constructed dramatic scenes (as in the early image of a stray dog prancing through trash cans). But the movie’s flaws — silly plotting and unconvincing psychological groundwork — are Klein’s doing.
Scanlon’s desperate dive into a life of armed robbery is simply not believable, despite Bentley’s best efforts (he gets in an enthralling, minute-long close-up after Scanlon commits his first crime). Similarly, Jason Isaacs’s promising appearance as a hard-drinking detective is muddled by lofty dialogue (“Morality is an illusion”) and odd details (his go-to beer-and-whiskey haunt is apparently the local bowling alley).