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The Sweet Hereafter is as tragic, sad and matter-of-fact as movies get, but
it's still so very beautiful that it becomes a film that's virtually
impossible to forget.
The story makes no secret of the fact what terrible tragedy will happen, right from the outset. A lesser filmmaker than Atom Egoyan would've jumped at the chance to shock the audience with the freak accident that robs the town of Sam Dent of nearly all their children, by telling the story in a linear fashion. Not Egoyan. The story is fragmented, thus enhancing the true point: This is not about the overwhelming power of loss, it is about the overwhelming power of survivor's guilt (nicely represented in Browning's poem The Pied Piper Of Hamelin, which is referred to in the movie). It's all about people who grieve not only for the ones they've lost, but also for themselves, how empty their lives have become because of their tragedies. In focussing on that point, the film refrains from manipulative sentiment (which so many others don't), and presents true and unintrusive emotion, that, in the end, despite all the terror, shines a light of hope, for the sweet hereafter is not only the peaceful afterlife, it's also the peaceful future, the continuation of life...
The performances speak for themselves. Ian Holm and Sarah Polley shine in particular, through nicely subdued and subtle acting. Polley also excels as a fantastic singer-songwriter. The songs in the movie were written and performed all by herself.
Egoyan's direction is simply masterful in its beauty, elegance and evocation.
One of the best films of the 1990s.
10 out of 10.
When it comes to drama, The Sweet Hereafter represents the finest cinema
the decade. The film lifts the director Atom Egoyan to the highest place
Canadian directors -right next to David Cronenberg. With extraordinary
intelligence, Egoyan -the maker of "Exotica"- creates labyrinths of
relationships. Brilliantly using flashbacks the director reveals the
emotions of the characters to the viewers -a powerful way to make the
audience feel anxiety.
The Sweet Hereafter is based on a novel by Russell Banks. This doesn't mean that Egoyan hasn't created a film that looks like his own creation. Very beautifully, even with a sense of poetry, the camera moves in a canadian small-town, a scenery full of snow. The nicely unusual music of Mychael Danna creates the mood when a lawyer played by Ian Holm arrives to the town. A School bus lies under ice, and the lawyer is invited to sue someone for the loss of several children.
A very important slice of the scenario belongs to a school girl (Sarah Polley), who realizes that the grief of loss can't be eased by judging the cause of it. Also the other people of the town play a remarkable role in the script.
Egoyan speaks clearly, but with a sound of personality, about the need of love, the pain of loneliness and the crossing of emotional obstacles. Fortunately someone knows how to direct interesting movies with elements of drama in them. The Sweet Hereafter possesses a brilliant structure where the visual telling breaths in the spirit of symbolism. I'm a very demanding viewer, a true cynic who always tries to find the worst sides of the film, but in this case I can't say anything negative.
"The Sweet Hereafter" was arguably the best film of the 1990s and is
one of my twenty favorite movies of all time. Everything comes together
perfectly: fine characterization and acting (especially by Ian Holm),
beautiful photography, and a hypnotic musical score featuring Armenian
folk instruments. The mood is deeply elegiac but never maudlin or
weepy. There's not a false note in the movie.
But don't worry; I'm not going to start screaming, "If you don't like this movie, you just don't understand it! Go back to your Hollywood pablum, you cretinous moron!" That's a stupid argument in any case, and especially so here. There are going to be some people -- including a few art-house fans -- who will find this movie slow and tedious. For me and many others, however, the film is a masterpiece.
I re-watched The Sweet Hereafter on video last night, and am still haunted
by it today. It is structured so that you know some of the basic tragic
near the beginning. This caused my eyes to water at some of the beautiful
lyrical overhead tracking shots of the school bus winding through the snow
covered roads of the Pacific northwest.
The film switches between the time that the lawyer arrives in town to "help" the families receive compensation, and to days just prior to the accident. We witness a loving "hippie" couple who has adopted a beautiful Native American boy, a loving mother of a school phobic learning disabled boy, and a widower who loves his two children a great deal and sees them off to school by following them in his truck. This same widower is having an affair with the mother of the school phobic--she is unhappily married to a "pig" of a husband. Complicating matters is the father who obviously loves his teenage daughter in Lolita-like fashion.
Part of the theme of The Sweet Hereafter is similar to Magnolia--accidents do happen--perhaps no one at fault... or perhaps all the adults had some part in it without anyone being at fault, as only the innocent children were killed.
The town had changed... tragedy has taken away the town's joy and innocence. The parents are no longer open with each other, but guarded, suspicious... in deep grief.
The lawyer is little more than an ambulance chaser, attempting to profit off their tragedy. Yet, he, too is a tragic figure who has already "lost" his daughter--
He had saved her when she was a baby, yet she has now turned away from him... and his feelings are now ambivalent towards her--he is a grief-stricken, defeated father, who vascillates between wanting to talk with his daughter on his cell phone and deciding to cut her off.
The story of the Pied Piper is interweaved between various events in the movie to give greater depth to the story. There's also a great scene in the movie between the lawyer and the garage mechanic, who has lost his two children, that shows that the theme is much broader than the literal story:
"I'm telling you this because... we've all lost our children, Mr. Ansel. They're dead to us. They kill each other in the streets. They wander comatose in shopping malls. They're paralyzed in front of televisions. Something terrible has happened that's taken our children away. It's too late. They're gone."
This movie isn't for everyone. It's a serious, layered piece with a lot of melancholy. The kind of fare that film critics can love, but Academy voters will avoid. But what it strives to accomplish is done very well. And it will stay with you long after the final scenes have appeared.
Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter is a drama of loss and internal
conflict within and among the people of small town which has lost its
children to a winter bus crash. The central figure is Mitchell Stephens
(Ian Holm), a lawyer who comes to the town in the hope of putting
together a lawsuit on behalf of the surviving families.
Egoyan drags bitter and emotional performances out of his excellent cast, and managed to make me fall in love with a group of characters who, on the surface, are less than appealing. Every major character in his adaptation of Russel Banks' novel is morally bifurcated and riven with doubt.
Particularly interesting from a social perspective is the treatment of Stephens' mission. I thought the lawyer's efforts to put together his suit were played even-handedly, somewhere between the greed of an ambulance-chaser cynically exploiting a local tragedy and the difficult but necessary effort to use a flawed legal system to achieve a kind of justice. But the friends who saw it with me saw Stephens strictly as a "slimeball," placed there to test and tempt the struggling townspeople. If that's the impression that most viewers get, then I'm disappointed.
Whatever your perspective on that social question, there's no denying the slow power of this film. It moves with the measured fascination of inevitability, and leaves you with a bitterness you can savor.
Brutally honest, haunting, cold, austere and elliptical in the unfolding of plot and story, Atom Egoyan's restrained but powerful look at a small Canadian town ripped apart by tragedy and now invaded by a troubled lawyer (played expertly by Ian Holm) looking to make a killing off their grief is one of the most artistic portraits of the sorrow of everyday people ever conceived. The scene where Bruce Greenwood's character witnesses the school bus carrying his two children and all the hopes and dreams of a small town skid nonchalantly off an icy road and onto a frozen body of water that can't possibly hold the vehicle's weight is among the most chilling, heart-wrenching and gut-dropping scenes ever put on film. The revelations unearthed during the lawyer's investigation are both quietly disturbing and all too true to life. The intertwining tales of the townsfolk and the ultimately heartbroken lawyer are exquisitely handled by Egoyan and leave the viewer feeling the same loss as the characters. Tragedy befalls us all. Luckily, every once in awhile, so does great art.
This was one of the saddest films I have ever seen. I do not mean that in bad way though. I have seen sad films that made me depressed and I usually disliked them because of this. The Sweet Hereafter is different though. It is a sad film without being manipulative and fake. The film brilliantly shows how people need to have revenge. After a bus accident where all but two are killed the people of the town, after a lawyer pushes them on, become obsessed with suing those responsible. Egoyan looks at how people can not accept that things happen by accident. The people of the town feel that someone has to pay for the pain they are feeling and in the end they are the ones to pay for it. The acting is excellent, especially Ian Holm. Once you become accustomed to the time shifts this is an incredibly rewarding film that you will always remember.
Marvelous acting, excellent photography, cinematic brilliance. Those are just a few of the words, that describe this movie. It's a shame that it did not receive the attention it should have. Not even at the Academy Awards where only Egoyan received a nomination. Titanic is not half as great as The Sweet Hereafter. So go and get it... and watch it and watch it and watch it. It'll be an unforgettable experience. Because of its subtle atmosphere it seems as silent as a silent film, but its so rich in character and story development - with great actors in the lead. Don't miss it.
There aren't many films that unfold with a true grace, like a bird spreading it's wings in a beautifully restrained manner. "The Sweet Hereafter" is one of them, it is an engrossing film that doesn't rely on emotional manipulation to effect it's viewer, it tells a tale like it is, and in the end, that is exactly what makes it so good. The film studies a small Canadian town in the face of tragedy, and carefully layers a series of intertwining stories involving a handful of locals who have all been impacted by the occurence. Every character seems to have a normal life at first, but as the film progresses, it becomes clear that they do not. They are emotionally void people who all harbour secrets and lies, and as much as they want to believe what they're doing is right, deep down they know it's not. Intense emotions of guilt and grief run through them, but for unusual reasons. "The Sweet Hereafter" examines the things that surface after the wake of a tragedy, after the eminent shock and sorrow, how people's lives become so deteriorated and barren. The film skillfully uses different perspectives, places and time to explore the span of everything involved, asking why some things in the universe are out of our control, and if they happen for a reason. I was impressed with the film's meticulous structure, every frame is measured delicately to maximise it's power, and it works 100 percent of the time. From stark to striking, it's visuals work just as well as it's intellect. Ok, so Russell Bank's novel is a bit clearer, but Atom Egoyan's take on it is just as effective, if not more. Another thing that makes this film shine are it's performances, Sarah Polley and Ian Holme are both superb, both exude with a gentle sadness that genuinely convinces. In all, "The Sweet Hereafter" is a film that needs to be seen, it is a beautifully realised and haunting film that's virtually impossible to forget.
On the surface, this is simply the story of a small Canadian town
traumatized by a school bus crash. Personal injury lawyer Ian Holm arrives
on the scene in his expensive car, cellular phone at hand, ready to sign up
victims for a lawsuit because, "I believe there is no such thing as an
accident." But that summary really tells nothing, because this haunting
tale is not about a grasping lawyer or greedy victims, but about how nothing
is ever as it seems on the surface.
Director Atom Egoyan does a remarkable job with the narrative. Though at times the movie is difficult to follow because of some sequences which it is not immediately clear are flashbacks, it's worth sticking with it. The story works precisely because the chronology is chopped up to reveal the secrets each character, including the lawyer, keeps hidden, until the tragedy finally rips open the lives of everyone it touches.
Repeat viewings are definitely in order, if only because of the multiple, interwoven layers and images which are not always apparent on first viewing, and to ponder the interplay among the three strands of narrative in the movie. The movie is worthwhile, too, for Holm's portrayal of his grim, relentless character (possibly the best of his career), and Sarah Polley's remarkable performance as a kind of modern-day Greek chorus.
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