The Sweet Hereafter is an experience that's worth having
The Sweet Hereafter Blu-ray ReviewBased on the novel of the same name by Russel Banks, the tale covers the aftermath of an horrific school bus accident in which almost all of a small canadian town's children are killed. The story is told through the eyes of a lawyer who, through no obvious sense of greed but rather compassion and commitment to justice, attempts to convince the town's grieving parents to allow him to represent them in a case he hopes will bring whoever is to blame for the accident to rights. Emotionally fragile, some of the townsfolk agree whilst others remain, rather understandably, sceptical at his motives. With only two witnesses to the accident, one a father of two of the children on board the bus, the out-of-town lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) attempts to piece together the events leading up to the accident. Meanwhile, we're given a glimpse at an explanation for his motivation through his very troubled relationship with his drug addict daughter.
There's no easy way to put into words the immense sense of wonder I felt after watching The Sweet Hereafter. It's the telling of a difficult story, but told in such a way that feels natural, raw and beautiful, despite the movie's difficult themes and emotionally challenging situations. It took the air right out of my lungs and left me with a furrowed brow and a thousand yard stare, but it also left me with a real sense of satisfaction and completeness. It's beauty, it's sadness and it's heart-on-sleeve approach are at times difficult to be an audience to, but as the movie's tempo increases and it's narrative snowballs towards the end, we find that despite it being a difficult experience at times, The Sweet Hereafter is an experience that's worth having. A movie that will stay with me forever more. Thoroughly recommended.
The Sweet Hereafter Blu-ray Picture QualityThe 1080p 2.35:1 aspect AVC encoded transfer is a bit of a mixed bag. It wanders between looking fantastic, looking OK, and looking slightly suspect. After much deliberation though, I think i have to rate this reasonably highly due ot the fact that the Blu-ray looks decent more often than not.
Lets get the poor stuff out of the way first - Sometimes the blacks can be very washed out, appearing more grey than black. Also contrast can be quite lacklustre at times, which really removes much of the depth of the image (note I'm talking mostly about interior scense here, the exterior scenes are consistently beautiful). As a result of these occasional defects, the detail can be a little skewed towards being below par. Shadow detail can be lost almost completely at times, and colours can seem a little off. One of the worst offending scenes is relatively early on when Mitch visits the Walkers and interviews them for the first time. You'll notice how grey and bleak everything looks, but it's almost certainly not intentional. If it is, then it would make for a very inconsistent video presentation. I think that pretty much sums up the bad stuff.
For the most part, this video presentation looks fantastic. With rich and deep colours throughout, wonderfully rendered exterior shots that are exceptionally framed, drawing the eye lazily through the image across the puffy white snowy landscapes. Blacks, when not affected by the above mentioned issues which really are only occasional, look rich and inky and contrast definitely adds depth to the image. Shadow detail is great and the detail on the whole is what I would describe as "wouldn't want for more" from a movie of this era and of this style.
Generally speaking, barring the few discrepancies which I'm more than prepared to look past, the video presentation is decent and it serves the movie's cinematography very well.
Video presentation is decent and serves the movie's cinematography very well.
The Sweet Hereafter Blu-ray Sound QualityThe DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track was a big surprise for me. It confidently goes much further than I would have expected from a movie, largely dialogue driven like The Sweet Hereafter. From the first few moments it's englufing me in a rich and beautiful soundscape that swarms around me, throwing me deeper into the picture. The music is very well mixed in surround too, and it adds a depth to the frequency range that can often be lacking in movies of an age. Dialogue is a little mid-rangey and lacks much oomph in the low end, but it's perfectly clear and I never once struggled to follow the many intensely emotinal dialogues from Ian Holm who, though needing no forgiveness for it, has an occasional tendancy to mumble a little.
As for the rest of the audio track, it doesn't do very much that will excite, but the DTS-HD MA track certainly breathes life into the overall experience that simply would not have been there before. Having A/B compared the LPCM 2.0 track, which is still good, I have no hesitation in recommending that this movie be watched in surround. It adds plenty of space to the picture without trying too hard and ending up over doing it. A good, solid audio presentation here.
The Sweet Hereafter Blu-ray Extras
Wow, I tell ya, I've never been more creep'd out than I was when, after such an emotionally harrowing experience as watching The Sweet Hereafter, I rolled on the extras. A single feature called Open House. I had no idea what it was or what to expect. What I got was a surreal short movie, around 23 minutes long, that did little more for me than freak me the hell out. It's from Egoyan himself, and apparently it was lauded at the time of it's release as being "great". Not a word I would personally use to describe it, but you know, each to their own.
Visually it looks pretty terrible. Grainy, badly shot, colour faded and all yellow-y with age. Unless you're a glutten for the Art-House punishment, I'd probably avoid this. If you're feeling brave though and want to see what I'm whimpering on about, please, don't watch it immediately after the main feature - let it sink in for a couple of days before returning to this freak show of a short.
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