Before and After is not as terrible a story as some critics would have audiences believe. Anyone that watches television newsmagazines such as Dateline, 20/20, 48 Hours, and the ilk will see that the story behind this movie is not as outrageous as it seems. Nor are the reactions of the community surrounding Carolyn and Ben Ryan when it's announced that their son Jacob (Edward Furlong) is a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend, Martha. While this nation's justice system says that a person is innocent until proven guilty, the townspeople in the Ryans' community show the same reaction that people in the real world instantly show concerning any crime case that's spread across the various news agencies.
While Liam Neeson has rarely had very good acting roles, this is one time when he is actually at least somewhat convincing. And as always, veteran Meryl Streep impresses as the distraught mother trying to come to terms with and make sense of everything when her family's world is turned upside down. Alfred Molina shines, too, in the role of shyster lawyer Panos Demeris. Audiences will love to hate him when he tells Carolyn that Jacob is his client. And he will defend Jacob, even if it means throwing Carolyn under the bus.
The reaction of the townspeople around the Ryans' is entirely believable. One look at the news each night shows just how fast people are to judge, rather than sit and wait for the facts to come out about a case. They instantly take it on themselves to be judge, jury and executioner, when they don't have the full story. And their reactions to Jacobā(TM)s family are just as believable. Despite doing what he did, it makes Ben that much more of a sympathetic character to audiences. He wasn't thinking in doing what he did. He wanted only to protect his son.
That relationship between Ben and Jacob was the true heart of this movie. While the main story was a crime drama, audiences learn that a fight between the two is what led up to the alleged murder. Ultimately, the father-son relationship leads to an ending that is bittersweet at best. But considering everything that Jacob and his family endured thanks to Martha's death, it's understandable that the story would end how it did. That ending won't be given away. But it will leave any true movie lover moved as the last scene fades to credits.
Before and After is not a terrible movie by any means. Is it the most memorable movie ever made in the crime drama genre? No. But it is still a movie that's worth at least one watch. Odds are that it was unappreciated by so many critics was that it was based so much in reality, rather than being just another over sensationalistic oversexed crime drama/thriller. It's a movie that any fan of more realistic crime dramas will enjoy.