The Sweet Hereafter Review

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The Sweet Hereafter is an experience that's worth having

by Alan McDermott Sep 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

  • Movies review

    The Sweet Hereafter Review
    If this review does it's job and you haven't already seen The Sweet Hereafter, then by the time you've finished reading this you'll be on the hunt for a copy. Don't put it off any longer, act immediately and purchase a copy of this magnificent and gracefully sweeping thriller from wherever you can. If ever there was a meaning to the term “must see”, then Egypt born Atom Egoyan's veritable breath-taker of a brooding thriller embodies the sentiment. There's very little that can prepare you for the slow burning emotional thread that runs throughout the movie, but it's sure to hit a nerve for anyone with a pulse.

    Based 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.

    The Sweet Hereafter

    Egoyan pieces together his tale with a devastating confidence, and the rhythm of the movie builds to an incredible crescendo. It's pace is expertly tempered and never feels too rushed or too slow, with Egoyan gently prodding at our emotions with a little insight into the parent's lives, toying with us like a cruel child with a dying worm. The calendar in the Walker's home having remained unchanged on the year 1995, the year of the accident – time has stood still for the Walkers since they lost their son; the pictures of all the children on the wall behind Dolores Driscoll, the surviving driver of the school bus, as she is interviewed; the plainness in how she, having had no children of her own, grieves as though she were a parent of all the children taken that day. Egoyan draws very competently on our compassion for the characters he's created, and there's never a second where he doesn't have us exactly where he wants us. With obvious diagetic nods to the Pied Piper of Hamelin fairytale, there's a sinister undercurrent that resonates throughout the movie without ever being obviously thumbed at. The relatinship between the story we're told and the fairy tale made famous by The Brothers Grimm is subtle, and Egoyan rather graciously leaves us to tie the two together after placing them both at our feet.

    Casting is exemplary

    His cast is exemplary too. Ian Holm turns in a brilliant performance as the eager lawyer who turns up to try and win the townsfolk's charge in bringing a lawsuit against the state or the bus manufacturer. He shows such an incredible breadth of ability in this one role. He's a fiery lawyer with questionable intent, sorrowful father whose love for his daughter has been bittered by years of being used by her to fuel her drug habits, broken husband whose marriage has fallen apart, lonely old man who clings to the past but even those memories are foul and sour. Then there's Bruce Greenwood turning in a memorable performance as Billy, a father whose twins were killed in the accident. He shows more credentials as an actor in two minutes here than a full feature length Star Trek remake could afford him. It's a magnificent performance that shows his skills in their true light. And of course there's Sarah Polley who plays Nicole and puts in a mesmerising performance as one of the eldest children on the bus. All in all, Egoyan has assembled a wonderful cast that truly serve the movie's intentions and Egoyan's film-making sagacity the justice they deserve.

    The Sweet Hereafter

    To say nothing of the cinematography from Paul Sarossy who frames the tortured town in such a way that holds a terrible sadness in the stillness of the imagery, would be impossible. It's a terrifically beautiful movie, and it's shot by someone who clearly had a thorough understanding of the movie's themes and intent. Egoyan and Sarossy certainly make a great team. At times It even reminded me of The Deer Hunter in how it was framed and shot, and I don't say that lightly!

    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.

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