Before and After - * *

Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep are Ben and Carolyn Ryan, parents of two children in a small Massachusetts town. When their son Jacob (Edward Furlong) seems to be involved in a murder and turns up missing, the parents react in radically different ways. Ben discovers evidence that his son was involved in some way, and in order to protect him, destroys the evidence. Carolyn insists that he is innocent, and instead looks for some desperate way to clear his name. The movie isn’t purely a murder mystery; the actual events are spelled out about halfway through. Rather, the Before and After is a drama dealing with the effects of a murder accusal on the family of the accused. Unfortunately, after the parents’ stances are spelled out, there is not much ground broken. Both Streep and Neeson are forced into one-note performances. The script contains many heated exchanges, but that can’t mask that the underlying struggle is uninvolving and uninteresting. Halfway through the movie, we know what happened and where everyone stands, and there’s not much else to do. The film makes the serious mistake of basing its entire story on the characters, and then not making characters strong enough to carry the movie. Neeson seems eternally furious, while Streep is indignantly righteous, and Furlong seems sullen and depressed. The only character with a spark of individuality is the criminal lawyer played by Alfred Molina, who is mostly forced to be a sounding board for the other characters. Due to a poor script and lack of characterization, Before and After completely misfires.

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