Following a tragic schoolbus accident high-profile lawyer mitchell stephens descends upon a small town with promises of retribution and a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the community. But as his investigation into... more » the quiet town begins he uncovers a tangled web of lies deceit and forbidden desires. Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 07/20/2004 Starring: Ian Holm Bruce Greenwood Run time: 112 minutes Rating: R Director: Atom Egoyan« less
"I can't fathom anyone watching this movie through without being deeply moved, at times disturbed, and shaken to some degree. It really does delve down into the dark night of the soul, like the cinematic equivalent of a Sylvia Plath poem. It's a film about loss. Innocence lost, the questionability of ideals and motives. The end of childhood. Yet Egoyan doesn't deliver a totally bleak jeremiad here, either. Human beings are flawed, but they also are capable of growth and wisdom, though both are hard earned. As usual with Egoyan films, nature is at a distance and a remove from human beings and the turmoil brimming over inside them. The beautiful BC vistas are in contrast to the tragic event that occurs. It's a bit like the end of Moby Dick, when the Pequod is smashed and sinks, while the sun smiles down serenely on the calm sea. I think Egoyan's getting at the same thing Melville is, as well. It's an existentialist's way of looking at the universe. If we're looking for a higher power to bail us out, we're out of luck. Our other moral constructs are pretty shaky, as well. We tend to think a little better of ourselves than is often the case. As is also usual, Egoyan assembles an excellent cast, that feed off of each other's honest performances. No wrong notes here. Cinematography also up to the usual high standard. My appreciation for Egoyan's work increases with each new film I see. Personal thanks to the reviewer who led me to the works of this auteur director, in the best sense of that term.BEK"
Ryan Costantino | 04/24/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm sorry to disagree with everyone but this movie, this story, is about the impotence of incest. The fantasy of a school bus accident that takes the lives of all the children is a metaphor of collateral damage suffered by the innocent.The lawyer (Holm) represents our image of the profession's lowest: an ambulance chaser. Simultaneously, he is a dedicated father, out of sync with his professional role. Early in his life, he suffered his own impotence: A gripping fear of being unable to save his daughter. Wrenched into the role of God, he was prepared to perform the invasive procedure she might need enroute to the hospital, and the trauma of the memory lingers in the form of addiction's continuous relapse and finally, AIDS.Holm stirs the dragon inside the grieving parents. He insists the class action suit is about "anger, not grief." He wants them to join together and punish whoever's responsible. This call to arms is sounded throughout the story and is unmistakably the author's method of reminding us that incest produces victims and is not an innocent expression of love.Polley finds a way to punish her father despite intimating that she'd tell his nasty little secret. Holm asks her if she'll testify and she says, "...If I testify, I'll tell the truth about everything." Does she? No. She lies during the deposition because in so doing, her father loses any chance of collecting from the insurance company, bus manufacturer, etc.. Holm compliments her on her poker face. Looking straight at her father she quite evenly says "thank you."The image that remains is one of her father carrying her from the car to a distant wheelchair, struggling under her weight, and repainting the wheelchair ramp from a dull green to a brilliant red simply because he thinks it will make all the difference in the world."
The Wheels on the Bus
Ryan Costantino | Nowhere, Special | 06/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you have children, plan to have children, or know of any children living in your area seek this movie out. From it's haunting opening music, to its somber, yet life affirming tone, The Sweet Hereafter is one helluva soul jerkin' drama.
It gives you a gut punch/ sucker punch combo all the way through, a harrowing study of the reverberations and impact of an instant.
Sarah Polley is an otherworldly talent, portraying a child possessing creepy wisdom and the voice of a dew eyed angel.
People still talk about this film today, because it entrenches itself into the minds of viewers with a conscience. Quite possibly one of the saddest, smartest, and touching films I've ever seen.
The soundtrack is mesmerizing, you will feel compelled to purchase it.
P.S. If this movie doesn't get to you in some way your heart is but a cinder.
"I am dissapointed by movies, as a general rule. Few movies, even independent ones, dare to speak about anything but the obvious. Some movies have great acting and visual style. Others have a structure that enhance the story and themes, or explore uncommonly profound themes. It's rare that one finds all of these things together in one mind-blowing film. The Sweet Hereafter is one such mindblowing film. It is about a terrible bus accident that kills 15 children, although we only see it from afar, and halfway into the movie - the accident is a pivotal temporal point but not the focus. The focus is on the actions surrounding that accident, and what they tell us. All the while, the story is not told in chronological order, but more or less in thematical order. Past, present and future are shuffled effortlessly, because the accident is our anchor to the story. The story concerns many people, but especially one Mitchell Stephens, played by Ian Holm, as a lawyer hired by the Walkers (one of the victimized families) to start a class action lawsuit. He hops from family to family, from evidence to evidence, in increasingly manipulative attempts to rally town inhabitants to his cause, while the sordid secrets of the community threaten to derail him at every turn. A survivor, Nicole, is now handicapped and holds an important testimony. Ian Holm never had a leading role before this movie. Watching his incredible performance, I want to scream bloody murder. He's perfect. That this guy can't get a leading role is mind-bogglingly insane. The other actors, though less well-known, don't unbalance the movie at all. At first, it seems that the movie is a simple left-right conflict, with the hypocrite and conniving community on one hand, and the profiteering lawyer from the big city on the other hand. And it seems that most critics have interpreted it as such, even taking position for one or the other when no such bias is apparent in the movie. I think that says more about their statist political views than it says about the movie. The subtextual richness of this movie is stunning. Using the story of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", it compares Stephens' cynical crusade to channel the parents' anger, as well as the independence-destroying authority of Nicole's father, to the Pied Piper story. In essence, they are leading people to more disaster, the former social and the latter psychological. Stephens' blatant use of invented narrative to coax parents into joining his case brings up the evil uses of storytelling in our society. We see Stephens' desire to lose himself in his case and the town around him, we assume because of her daughter's drug addiction, masterfully played by Iam Holm. The question of responsibility comes up repeatedly, as people's desire to find a guilty party blinds them to the fact that some things are simply accidents. Some of these themes find great resonance in today's lawsuit frenzies used to undermine capitalism. If there is one thing I find lacking in the movie, it is a lack of moral center. Nicole does provide us with a possibly moral action at the end of the movie, which I will not reveal, but the rest of the movie is very morally bleak from a rational perspective. It is not that I found it depressing, but simply morally bleak. Then again, that is what reality is like - as most people lack such moral center and desire to do good, messes like this one are common. The movie was directed by Atom Egoyan, a Canadian director. I'm not a big fan of his, and I didn't like Exotica, but he has to be good to have a movie like this in him. Perhaps the fact that he didn't create this world has something to do with it. As for the movie being Canadian, it is set in British Columbia, and the most obvious indicator of this is that there is no media circus surrounding the whole affair. But written as a fable-like story, it could be set in a great number of places. It is not the accident itself which resonates with the viewer, or the town, but the truth of the movie."
Atom Egoyan's beautiful tragedy! Masterful filmmaking!
Jeffery K. Matheus | Indianapolis, IN United States | 12/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What can I say about "The Sweet Hereafter"? Well, without hyperbole, Canadian director Atom Egoyan has basically turned Russel Banks popular novel into one of the most touching and masterfully-crafted films ever made! This is the story of smalltown tragedy in British Columbia. Fourteen schoolchildren are killed in a freak school bus accident, and their families, friends, and neighbors, each devestated in their own way, tries to carry on with their lives. A manipulative laywer (played with stark intensity by Ian Holm) comes to the town to try to organize a class action lawsuit, but the lawyer is carrying some emotional baggage of his own, and Egoyan creates some beautiful plot "counterpoint" by weaving the townpeople's and the lawyers tragedies together. Egoyan takes what COULD have been fodder for another melodramatic Hollywood tearjerker, and turns it into a film of great depth and substance. Egoyan has a wonderfully lyrical sense of film composition, and he masterfully intermixes scenes from the present, with flashbacks to the past, and slowly unviels the the complex lives of his characters (including some even deeper tragedies than the bus accident!) Ever the innovator, Egoyan even manages to blend spoken poetry into the story, as Robert Browning's "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" is used as a powerfully symbolic conterpoint to the story we are seeing on screen. The whole cast is quite excellent, but young Canadian actress Sarah Polley (as the pivotal character of Nicole, a would-be rock singer and survivor of the bus crash) just about steals the show! I won't give away one of the film's most surprising plot-points (although some Amazon reviewers have already let the cat out of the bag), but I will just say that Polley's dazed facial expression near the end of the story is a beatiful piece of acting...and speaks volumes more than any big, convoluted Hollywood "comeuppance" scene could ever achieve! "The Sweet Hereafter" is a film that should not be missed by any film buff! I have seen this film at least five times now and I can attest that it only gets better with repeated vieweings, there is simply too much going on underneath the surface of the story to absorb all of it's issues on the first glance. This very "human" film is the complete antithesis of everything that is wrong with the current Hollywood scene, and with this emotionally gripping film, Atom Egoyan has cemented his place among the world's finest filmmakers!"