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The Sweet Hereafter

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Sweet Hereafter

Starring: Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin
Director: Atom Egoyan
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Gabrielle Rose, Peter Donaldson, Brooke Johnson, David Hemblen, Bruce Greenwood, Tom McCamus, Earl Pastko

Review by Brian Koller
No Rating Supplied

Atom Egoyan directed, co-produced, and wrote the screenplay for "The Sweet Hereafter", a critically acclaimed film about a tragic school bus accident and its effect on a small town. While parts of the film are good, it never fully takes off, and the lead character (a grim lawyer with family problems) is disappointing.

The story is told through a series of chronologically jumbled pieces, sometimes leaving the viewer confused as to whether the scene took place before or after the accident. Friendly, dependable Mrs. Driscoll (Gabrielle Rose) has been driving the school bus for the past twenty years. This time, however, the bus hits an ice patch, and careens off the road onto a frozen lake. The ice cracks, the bus sinks, and some children die, while some survive with injuries, as does Mrs. Driscoll.

While the parents are still shocked and grieving, middle-aged lawyer Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm) arrives on the scene, seeking to file a class action lawsuit against someone or something, and enlisting the parents, children and bus driver to his cause. To complicate the plot, Stephens has a runaway, drug-addicted daughter (Caerthan Banks), and we learn that several of the parents are involved in illicit affairs, which apparently includes incest.

Those who love disaster films will be disappointed in the accident scene: we see the bus go off the road, but we don't see what is happening inside. The chaos, drama and horror of the actual accident is bypassed.

The gloomy atmosphere is shared by the entire cast. Driscoll and her stroke victim husband (David Hemblen) are well-defined characters, as is paralyzed teenager Nicole (Sarah Polley). However, Stephens, an unhappy, reflective man, seems to come alive only when somebody (including himself) is angry.

The reservations I had with the film were not shared by the Academy, which gave "The Sweet Hereafter" Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film also won the Cannes "Special Grand Prize of the Jury".

Copyright 1997 Brian Koller

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