Sunday, August 11, 2013

919. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Atom Egoyan
Written By: Atom Egoyan, from novel by Russell Banks
Main Cast: Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood, Gabrielle Rose, Tom McCamus
Click here to view the trailer


According to THE BOOK even Russell Banks, author of The Sweet Hereafter, has admitted that the movie improved upon the novel, proving that the book isn't always better than the movie. However, I'm left with the question of how bad was that book, because while I didn't hate "The Sweet Hereafter", I certainly wouldn't consider it a "must see".

The film revolves around a school bus accident, when one morning as bus driver Dolores (Rose) is driving the children to school, the bus hits an icy patch in the road (or so some claim), Dolores loses control of the vehicle and it crashes through a guardrail, over a hill and through an icy river, killing nearly all aboard. Enter lawyer Mitchell Stephens (Holm), who has arrived in the small town - the type of town where there are no strangers and everyone knows everyone else - to coax the grieving residents to sue for damages and claim that the bus had faulty parts. Most of the community, caught with their guard down, agree to let Mr. Stephens represent them, as he dangles the idea of monetary gain and emotional justice in front of them. Meanwhile, Stephens must deal with his own troubled, drug addicted daughter. The story is told in flashback, focusing on three points of lineage: the days leading up to the bus crash, Stephens as he visits the residents of the community and Stephens as he travels back home to meet with his daughter, following his visit to the town.


Yeah, I definitely didn't hate it and the first thing that must be mentioned is the brilliant Ian Holm who MAKES this movie. Without him, "The Sweet Hereafter" is nothing more than a glorified Lifetime film. Holm brings the good and lays his heart out on the screen, particularly during a scene where he recalls a time when his daughter was three years old and was bitten by a black widow spider, nearly dying. It's such a beautiful scene, where you can literally see an actor pour everything they have inside them, into a scene. The rest of the cast is sort of so-so, probably fine in their own right, but clearly being outshone when sharing the stage with Holm. I also liked the mood of the film. Longtime followers of my blog know that I'm always down for a sad, depressing film and usually will chastise a director's efforts to provide a happy ending. Egoyan did exactly the opposite, never worrying about sending the audience home feeling good and always keeping us under a dark cloud. The running theme, as I saw it, seemed to be the loss of youth and how it can effect us, even though we never expect it too. Not only did the town become crippled when they children were taken away, but also Holm's character is emotionally numb due to the loss of his daughter - a once sweet, innocent child, now a drug addled young adult. His character always seems to be on the brink of tears, but like a well that's all dried up, he just can't produce physical proof of emotion anymore. On the other hand, he's also kind of a slime, for preying on the community, but you get the sense that he's just doing his job, going through the motions. You'll notice I keep coming back to that character, as I was quite fascinated with him.

On the other hand, the film was quite slow and never really forced us to care about anyone other than the Holm character. Certain scenes that just sort of seemed out of place were included; for example the scene where it is revealed that Nicole and Sam are engaging in an incestuous relationship. I'm just not sure why that was relevant and you get the sense that if you read the book, it might be more relevant there. The film just never really went anywhere, nothing was ever solved and none of the characters ever came to any sort of breakthrough or developed. You just had a lawyer come in, question a bunch of people and then nothing really ever came of it. Plus, I can't stress enough how I just never cared about anyone besides Stephens, which made a lot of the scenes uninteresting.

RATING: 6/10  I'll give it a '6', but it can thank Holm for the majority of that. I liked the mood and everything, but it lacked elsewhere and just never got me engaged enough to really care about what was happening, or what was going to happen.


August 11, 2013  1:36am


  1. I really liked this one.. certainly memorable, and introduced me to Atom Egoyan, and I've seen some others of his now. (I was not so sure about 'The Adjuster' which I saw only a day or two ago). This was one of his most accessible films, and, for me, really worked.
    I totally agree that the stand out performance - and character - was Ian Holm, and - slightly more guarded on this one - he was the one I most cared about.
    A winner for me, and I'd say well worth it's place as one of those 'thank you book, I would never have seen this without you telling me to'.

    1. Well I'd actually seen this before, so I wasn't necessarily thanking THE BOOK for introducing me to it. I don't know, I just wasn't as thrilled with it as other seem to be. In my research, I recall seeing the phrase "voted best Canadian movie of all-time"...while Canada isn't regarded for their filmmaking, I have a hard time believing this is the best thing they've produced.


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