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Emotions overwrought, ineffective in Before and After

Before And After

Directed by Barbet Schroeder.

Written by Ted Tally.

Starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson.

By David V. Rodriguez
Associate Arts Editor

As I was leaving the theater after Before and After, I heard a woman say, "I guess even Meryl Streep can have a bad day." This accurately sums up the movie: There is a lot of talent between Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson (Schindler's List), but it is wasted in this overly sentimental and ineffective drama.

The story begins when the police show up on Ben (Neeson) and Carolyn's (Streep) doorstep looking for their teenage son, Jacob. Jacob's girlfriend has been murdered and he was the last one seen with her. While trying to find his son, Ben discovers bloody rags in the garage, which he destroys before the police can find them.

By this point it seems pretty clear Jacob is the killer, but we eventually learn he's innocent. This isn't a spoiler. When we first see Jacob, he is pale, skinny, with his hair greased back, and refusing to say a thing - your basic Hollywood evil-type. The only thing that makes the story worth pursuing is his innocence; otherwise we'd be siding with the angry mob.

The second hour of the movie shows the family dealing with the emotional and legal problems of the crime. The movie gets into trouble by focusing too much on the first and not enough on the second. When Ben destroyed evidence, he created an interesting legal problem. Unfortunately, this detail isn't fully followed, nor is it resolved in any satisfying way. The movie focuses on these legal problems only because the lawyer is the only interesting character.

Before and After spends most of its time trying to show us how anguished the family is. This is done through many similar scenes, each trying to look all-important. But this quickly grows old. In the final heart-wrenching scene, when Ben started looking serious and the heavy background music kicks in, most of the audience started laughing. It's hard to take this film seriously.