Post-war tale cooks up a predictable love story but is better as a portrait of grief

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Keira Knightley's Rachael meets Alexander Skarsgård's Stefan and won't look at him or shake his hand. 

That's the moment you know they're going to end up in bed together.

That meeting happens in the opening moments of "The Aftermath," a predictable tale of love, lust and sorrow in post-war Germany. Its moves are telegraphed to anyone who's ever seen a stately period romance, and its handsome production can't overcome its myriad clichés. 

Jason Clarke is Lewis, an officer of the British Forces Germany who arrives in Hamburg shortly after the Allied victory to help rebuild the bombed-out city. Along with his wife, Rachael (Knightley), he moves into a grand mansion owned by Stefan (Skarsgård), a German widower, but Lewis makes the peculiar decision to let Stefan and his teenage daughter continue to live under their roof. Talk about awkward.

Lewis is consumed with work, which frequently leaves his wife alone in the house, where she gazes at Stefan chopping wood outdoors. (The story is set in winter, otherwise he'd be shirtless and glazed in sweat.) Will fair Rachael give into temptation? Don't think too hard, this soapy romance sure doesn't. 

And yet underneath the suds and bubbles there is an honest story itching to poke its head out. The title, "The Aftermath," has a dual meaning: It refers to the after-effects of war as well as navigating the trauma of losing a child, which Lewis and Rachael are experiencing. That story of loss takes a backseat for too long, and it's to the film's detriment. It's the only time "The Aftermath" forges its own path.

'The Aftermath'

GRADE: C

Rated R: for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images

Running time: 109 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama  

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