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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

The Sweet Hereafter
Directed by Atom Egoyan
New Line 11/97 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R -- sexuality, some language

Here is one of the most creative and morally complex films of 1997. Canadian writer and director Atom Egoyan (Exotica) has done an extraordinary job adapting Russell Banks's 1991 novel for the screen. When a school bus in a small town in British Columbia swerves off the highway and plunges into a lake, 14 children die. Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), a big-city lawyer, tries to convince the parents of the victims to band together in a grievance suit. Beneath his plea to give voice to their anger is his own rage over the drug addiction of his daughter (Caerthan Banks).

This film courageously and convincingly circles around the difficult themes of death, public and private loss, and the very human need to take some meaning away from inexplicable tragedy. Egoyan has drawn outstanding performances from his ensemble cast including Gabrielle Rose as the driver of the bus; Sarah Polley, a teenage survivor whose family secret has colored her perspective on the tragedy; Bruce Greenwood as a widower who views Stephens as an unprincipled intruder; and Arsinee Khanjian as a mother whose loss of her adopted son has filled her with the need for revenge. In addition to its interesting narrative style, The Sweet Hereafter explores the way the tragedy diminishes rather than enhances the town's sense of community.

(FROM THE FILM REVIEW 11/97)

The Sweet Hereafter (Fine Line) is one of the most creative and morally complex films of the year. Canadian writer and director Atom Egoyan (Exotica) has done an extraordinary job adapting Russell Banks's 1991 novel for the screen. When a school bus in a small town in British Columbia swerves off the highway and plunges into a lake, 14 children die. Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm in an Academy Award-caliber performance), a big-city lawyer, tries to convince the parents of the victims to band together in a grievance suit. Beneath his plea to give voice to their anger is his own rage over the drug addiction of his daughter (Caerthan Banks).

This film courageously and convincingly circles around the difficult themes of death, public and private loss, and the very human need to take some meaning away from inexplicable tragedy. Egoyan has drawn outstanding performances from his ensemble cast including Gabrielle Rose as the driver of the bus; Sarah Polley, a teenage survivor whose family secret has colored her perspective on the tragedy; Bruce Greenwood as a widower who views Stephens as an unprincipled intruder; and Arsinee Khanjian as a mother whose loss of her adopted son has filled her with the need for revenge. In addition to its interesting narrative style, The Sweet Hereafter explores the way the tragedy diminishes rather than enhances the town's sense of community.

 

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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