Film Scouts Reviews

"Before and After"

by Karen Jaehne

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Friday, February 23, 1996

Starring Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson, Edward Furlong, Alfred Molina. Produced by Barbet Schroeder and Susan Hoffman. Directed by Barbet Schroeder. Screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the book by Rosellen Brown. Cinematography by Luciano Tovoli. Music by Howard Shore. Hollywood Pictures.

"Before and After" punches all your parental buttons. It makes you ask what you would do if the little darling, whom you've nursed through chickenpox and broken bones and for whom you've bought many thousands of dollars of Nikes and bikes, suddenly needed a criminal lawyer. What if your neighbors thought your child had murdered one of the other children? That's a nightmare on Elm Street.

What would you do if the local sheriff knocked on your door asking to search your son's room? If you were 16, what would you do if the local sheriff was going to search your room and you didn't know how your parents would react? That's what "Before and After" is about.

Told from the perspective of his kid-sister, Edward Furlong's excruciating experience of killing his girlfriend in the middle of a big fight becomes a struggle between his mother (Meryl Streep) and his father (Liam Neeson). As any kid will tell you, parents always take over everything-as they do here. The people who seem to suffer most are Meryl and Liam, but that's partly because Edward Furlong delivers such a petrified performance. You feel the kid's fear but not much else.

Edward is so frightened at what he's done, he disappears, leaving Liam, his artist father, to cover up for him and Meryl, his doctor/mother, to advocate truth. As the plot unfolds Edward becomes more or less a murderer, depending on your point of view. Barbet Schroeder tries to balance the story between the father's claim that the worst thing you can do is let down your family and the mother's insistence that Truth will out.

The portrayal of the town is a very good depiction of a community such as Sharon, Connecticut, where Streep actually lives-where her own son plays hockey with the other kids. She is very convincing, if unglamorous, although her character's insistence on the moral highroad is annoying, if only because she seems so out of touch with what we (most of America) know about the law and courts. In the scenes between Streep and Alfred Molina as their criminal lawyer, Molina wins for realism alone.

If this were Court-TV, we would probably hear a lot more from the parents of the victim. But this is a story about a family imploding rather than about the mechanics of justice. In the end, the system is applauded, because the boy would have got off better, had he gone straight to the authorities and reported the tragedy as an accident. Maybe...but, c'mon, what kid wouldn't run?

"Before and After" seems like a likely candidate for the Cannes Film Festival, not only because Meryl Streep is rumored to be going to Cannes, but because, ha-ha!, we caught the publicity agents who handle pictures like this at Cannes rushing to the movie the other night. Normally they would not have been at the screening.

I think the movie is interesting as a post-O.J. insight to the way America has become split over the question of justice: is it a matter of personal responsibility or getting a good lawyer? There was an America "before-O.J." and there is an America "after-O.J." Is it the same America? "Before and After" views the country as if it were an average family. And "do the right thing" is still the national motto.

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