Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Before and After”

It’s 1996 and time to revisit the Hollywood Pictures drama starring Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep, Before and After. Is this a classic of the past, or best left in the wasteland of the streaming world?

The Plot

Ben and Carolyn Ryan have it all. A beautiful house, two wonderful kids, and successful careers. Carolyn is a respected doctor in the town and Ben is a prolific artist. They are the epitome of class and distinction. Their perfect life is shattered when police chief Fran Conklin shows up one night looking for their son Jacob.  

Jacob isn’t home and as the Ryan’s learn, a local girl named Martha was found dead, and Jacob was last seen with her. While Ben refuses to let the chief search the home without a warrant, the idyllic life the Ryan’s lead comes crashing down around them with one bad decision after another.

Ben rushes out to the barn to discover Jacob’s car has blood in the trunk, and the car jack is also covered in blood. Thinking he is protecting his son; Ben hides the weapon and destroys evidence. The police return with a warrant, searching the home and seizing a mountain of evidence including Jacob’s car.

When Jacob is found weeks later and arrested for the death of Martha, both Ben and Carolyn fight each other on the best way to protect Jacob. After learning from their son that Martha’s death was an accident, the conflict between Ben and Carolyn intensifies. Jacob’s lawyer Panos is thrilled to learn that Martha was pregnant with someone else’s child which would be very helpful for Jacob at trial, but Ben and Carolyn continue to battle about what is truly right for Jacob, and whether they are doing what’s best for their son.

The Good

Having Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep in a film together is always a good idea.

Alfred Molina can do no wrong. His version of the criminal defense attorney is typical for this type of film, but Molina makes the role his own, and when he speaks, it doesn’t sound slimy or awful compared to how his character could be portrayed.

Having actors like John Heard and Daniel von Bargen in supporting roles is essential for this to be a 90’s thriller.

The Bad and the Ugly

While I enjoyed seeing Neeson and Streep on screen together, I really do not like their characters at all. Ben Ryan seems like a great person, but in a heartbeat, he morphs into a controlling, manipulative, and conniving criminal. In his zest to protect his son, without knowing the facts of the case, he destroys evidence, which may have proven Jacob’s innocence.

Not only that, his callous regard for the death of a young girl, at the hands of his own son, makes me wonder if Ben Ryan has a soul. His complete dismissal of Martha and her life to protect his son, is not the example he needs to set for his kids.

Streep is great, even when the film is not up to her standards, however, I’m surprised she took the part of Carolyn Ryan. For most of the film Carolyn is the least responsible doctor I have seen on screen. How can she continue to practice when she knowingly aided the cover up of a crime? The scene between her and Martha’s mother was completely unnecessary and only cements in the viewers mind that Carolyn is not a good person.

The film’s dehumanization of Martha is a sore spot that I cannot forgive. Martha is the victim, but Jacob’s parents act like Jacob is the victim. The fact that the film brought up the sexual history of Martha and was going to use that against her to help Jacob get away with his crime is truly awful. Martha becomes a throwaway victim that never gets a moment of recognition for the fact that her life was taken away from her.

Beyond the Film Facts

  • Paul Giamatti plays an extra in the grand jury room where Meryl Streep’s Carolyn gives her testimony.
  • The movie is based on Rosellen Brown’s 1992 novel of the same name.
  • When the film was released, it opened in 7th place, with a gross of a little over $4 million dollars.
  • The film was a disappointment but had stiff competition with Rumble in the Bronx in first place, Broken Arrow in second place, and Muppets Treasure Island in third place. Even fifth place was a holdover of nine weeks with Mr. Holland’s Opus.

The Streamy Award

{The following four categories are based on a Film Reel scale.

1 Reel-Watch on your Smartphone, 2 Reels-Tablet Time, 3 Reels-Travel Entertainment, 4 Reels-Big Screen Event}

Before and After doesn’t get a rating because I can’t recommend the film.

This movie will force the audience to lose their patience with the ridiculous choices made by the lead characters. A terrible accident is turned into a crime because of an overprotective non thinking parent. The fact that the film tries to blame the victim is awful.

The film is not worth revisiting, and best left in the Disney vault, or disregarded on Disney+.

Cast and Crew:

  • Liam Neeson as Ben Ryan
  • Meryl Streep as Carolyn Ryan
  • Edward Furlong as Jacob Ryan
  • Julia Weldon as Judith Ryan
  • Alfred Molina as Panos Demeris

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

Produced by Hollywood Pictures / Caravan Pictures

Release Date: February 23, 1996

Budget: $35 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $8,797,839

Coming Soon

Next week, a look back at the Goldie Hawn and John heard thriller Deceived.