Let me try my best here, in the process trying to spoil the plot as little as possible. In small town Massachusetts, the Ryan family lives a semi-typical semi-functional family life. Carolyn (Meryl Streep) is a physician. Ben (Liam Neeson) is an avant-garde artist. Daughter Judith (Julia Weldon) is a precocious elementary school student but is wise beyond her years, and son Jacob (Edward Furlong) is the typical bratty teenager.
And of course it's Jacob who shames the upstanding family by getting embroiled in a suspected murder and fleeing the town to avoid the police. When Jacob is finally caught, he finds himself not only hated by the townsfolk but the subject of a tug-of-war between his parents: mom wants only to tell the unadulterated truth, and dad will do anything, even lie and destroy potentially incriminating evidence, to help out Jacob, as does his lawyer (well-played by Alfred Molina).
Sounds good, and it probably made a good book, but this type of inner-turmoil drama fares poorly when constrained to the screen. The plodding picture is slow and relatively unmoving from the start, and while it does pick up the pace and the stakes as it goes on, it never gains enough momentum to make you really care about any of the characters, all of whom somehow seem to be somewhere in the moral wrong. Carolyn takes the extreme of "never tell a lie" while Ben seems to have graduated from the School of Tough Love and Social Irresponsibility. These two are such an unlikely couple it actually hampers the film's credibility.
Unfortunately, credibility is exactly what Before and After needed, because its subject matter is, at heart, an engaging topic. A few stars shine, notably Molina's and Weldon's performances, but with its poor pacing, a sleepwalking performance by Furlong in a critical role, a goofy love scene, and even a horrid, interfering score, there's too much wrong with the film to get you too interested. The resulting conclusion leaves you wondering if the Ryan family did the right thing after all, but more to the point, if you did the right thing by sitting through the film.
Edward Furlong gets ready to kick a paper "football" through dad Liam Neeson's finger "uprights" while mom Meryl Streep cheers him on.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Friday 23rd February 1996
Distributed by: Disney
Production compaines: Hollywood Pictures, Caravan Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 13
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Screenwriter: Ted Tally