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)
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
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