The Sweet Hereafter (1997) – Atom Egoyan

Atom Egoyan’s heartbreaking, and powerful film (something I was fortunate enough to be able to tell the director in person) is the next stop in DK Canada’s The Movie Book. Based on the novel by Russell Banks, which Egoyan adapted as well as directed the film features great performances by Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood and Gabrielle Rose.

A small town in British Colombia suffers a horrifying tragedy when the school bus, overseen by driver Dolores Driscoll (Rose) suffers an accident and sends the town’s children to the depths of a frozen lake.

Dolores, and a young woman, Nicole (Polley) survive.

Mitchell Stevens (Holm) a lawyer, with family problems of his own, arrives in town to make the argument that someone be held responsible, that someone be made to pay, and will the town and its denizens sign with him, and how will that turn the town apart?

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Wrapped around the tragic tale is an equally heartbreaking tale of fathers and their children, as Mitchell deals with a drug-addled daughter who is having problems in Toronto, Bruce Greenwood’s Billy is a single father who loses his entire world with the accident, and Nicole’s father, Sam (Tom McManus) has a terrible secret that will affect everything, and Nicole most of all.

Beautifully shot against the snowy backdrop of B.C. the story doesn’t shy away from the subject matter it is presenting, and consequently, this isn’t much of a feel good movie, but it is a gorgeous one.

There is pain layered throughout the film, and the performances elicited from the actors bring it out beautifully as each deals with it in their own way, but it also affects all those around them.

The small town is ravaged, but we never look at the town as a whole, we are only given glimpses into the personal lives of our characters, and Egoyan keeps the film intimate, and touching in its pain, in its fallout. It’s a gorgeous piece of cinema.

The story plays out beautifully, moving back and forth through time to give us emotional context, expand characters, and let us into the motivations of the human hearts that we encounter through the story, and all of it is crafted perfectly. The emotional impact of the story, the horror that the town’s inhabitants go through, this one killed me – something I said to Egoyan when I had a moment with him.

It’s a must see, it’s fantastically Canadian, and DK Books’ The Movie Book is right to include it in its continually entertaining and engaging cinematic tome. But if the subject matter doesn’t appeal, pick up a copy of this great book and find a new to you classic to watch tonight!

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