The Sweet Hereafter

The Sweet Hereafter (1997) movie poster

(1997) dir. Atom Egoyan
veiwed: 07/21/08

It’s hard to get excited about seeing a film about a busload of children dying in a frozen lake after a crash.  Maybe it’s just me.

I guess that’s why it took me so long to get around to seeing Atom Egoyan’s critically acclaimed film about just such a thing.  Why I finally queued it up and watched it,…I don’t know.

Set in Canada, though based on a novel by Russell Banks who based his novel on a true incident in Texas, the film follows the lives of several of the town’s grieving parents following an accident that killed 21 children, leaving only one teenage girl and the bus driver alive.  And the blood-sucking attorney who whips into town to try and cast blame and stir up a lawsuit, though it is clear to many that the accident was simply an accident, no one was to blame.

Clearly, there is a critique of litigous ambulance chasers, embodied in Ian Holmes’ frozen-hearted lawyer, who is a professional leach on tragedy.  Other hot button issues are glanced upon, drug addiction, HIV, child abuse, among them.  Maybe this additional litany of things seemed a bit much.

The film is set in the snow of winter in a small town, beautifully shot and rendered.  The acting leans toward the naturalistic, embuing most of the townsfolk as good-hearted people who are honest, though perhaps also flawed and damaged.  The film is well-done in many respects, haunting and sad.  The narrative swings back and forth through time, before and after the accident, quite effectively developing its characters and tone.

Sarah Polley is completely angelic, playing the one teenage survivor who becomes paralyzed below the waist as a result of the accident.

Egoyan, who I was not particularly a fan of before, does good work here.  The parallel the film draws between The Pied Piper of Hamelin and the lost children of the town resonates initially, but then kind of gets re-enforced again and again, as if it was hard to make such a connection.

Well, when you’re in the mood for a movie about a school bus full of children perishing in a frozen lake and the hard-hearted attorney who comes to try to leach of the town’s misery,…this is the film for you.

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