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flick pick |
The Sweet Hereafter
Directed by:
Atom Egoyan
Written by: Russell Banks (novel), Atom Egoyan
Starring: Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin, Gabrielle Rose, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Polley
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama, foreign [Canada]
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  
artsy-fartsy, serious
The verdict: / 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis In a small, rural Canadian town, a school bus accident kills twenty of the town’s children, sparing just the bus driver, and a single child – a young teenage girl named Nicole Burnell (Polley) who’s left paralyzed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, personal-injury lawyer Mitchell Stephens (Holm) comes to town to encourage the parents to investigate what happened and why, and to make those at fault pay. Like the parents whom he so passionately encourages to allow him to "direct their anger," Mitchell too is filled with conflicting emotions of sadness, rage and frustration regarding a lost child. In his case, he’s lost his daughter to drugs, and though she’s not dead, he no longer understands who she is anymore. Alternating between flashbacks to the days just prior to the accident, and the present, where Stephens makes his way from home to home to talk to the many families involved, layers upon layers of complex relationships, lies and secrets are slowly revealed.

Review Like in his film Exotica, ostensibly a film about a strip club, Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter takes a potentially sensationalistic idea – Tragic Bus Accident Wipes Out an Entire Town’s Population of Children! – and turns it into an elegant, thoughtful, enigmatic and quietly poignant meditation on family, loss, loneliness, and finding peace. Ian Holm’s Mitchell isn’t simply a cardboard cutout figure of a scumbag lawyer, seeking to profit on other people’s misfortunes, but a man on a mission to seek answers to questions that simply don’t have any. Mitchell – and the adults who enlist him as their lawyer – seem unable to comprehend what young Nicole understands clearly: that sometimes, bad things happen, and there’s no reason why and no one to blame; you just have to move on. All of the actors do a superb job of evoking the subtleties and complexities of grief, in particular Holm, Polley, Bruce Greenwood (as a widower whose only two children died in the accident), and Gabrielle Rose (as bus driver Dolores), and it’s a credit to all involved that the movie makes you feel deeply, profoundly sad without any cheap attempts at eliciting tears. Intelligent and arty without being heartless, The Sweet Hereafter is one of those movies whose emotions stick with you long after those closing credits have rolled. reviewed by Y. Sun 

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