The Sweet Hereafter

The Sweet Hereafter


Lest the brevity of this post indi­cate oth­er­wise, The Sweet Here­after is one of my favorite films. Although I’ve read the orig­i­nal novel by Rus­sell Banks and seen Atom Egoyan’s film sev­eral times, I feel ill-equipped to “review” it. It is qui­etly heart­break­ing and dev­as­tat­ing, and dif­fi­cult to cap­ture in words.

Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin tale runs through the film as a metaphor. A tragedy of the worst kind imag­in­able, the death of an entire gen­er­a­tion of a small Cana­dian town’s chil­dren, reveals that every­body, every­body, has demons. Lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) descends upon the town, claim­ing to be able to help the sur­viv­ing fam­i­lies avenge their children’s deaths. His zeal con­vinces many of fam­i­lies to join a law­suit, but his true attrac­tion to this par­tic­u­lar case are com­plex and per­sonal, and it becomes clear he is pos­si­bly an even more tor­tured soul than any of his clients. His cru­sade only fur­ther pulls back the veil on the town’s deep­est secrets, and it falls to the young sur­vivor Nicole (Sarah Pol­ley) to put an end to it all.

The Sweet Hereafter

One excel­lent scene that demon­strates the high level of film­mak­ing at work: when we finally see a flash­back of the acci­dent in ques­tion, par­ent Billy (Bruce Green­wood) watches in shock as an over­turned school bus car­ry­ing his two chil­dren skids slowly to a stop atop a frozen lake, pauses for a heart­beat, then begins to crack through. The whole thing is filmed from a locked-down van­tage point, at a dis­tance, with muted sound design. Every ele­ment of the sequence shows aston­ish­ing restraint on the part of the filmmakers.

The Sweet Hereafter

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Lord of War

Lord of War movie poster


I ini­tially dis­missed Lord of War when the trail­ers and posters first appeared. In other words, it got caught in the crude men­tal fil­ters that rou­tinely han­dle my first-pass “ignore” of all the crap that flows through my eyes and ears all day every day. But when my reg­u­lar email newslet­ter from Amnesty Inter­na­tional endorsed the film, it seemed pos­si­ble this was some­thing more sub­stan­tial than National Treasure.

And it is. In an impres­sive mar­ket­ing slight-of-hand, Lions Gate mar­keted it as an action com­edy. But like Syr­i­ana, Lord of War is actu­ally a very strongly-felt top­i­cal film loosely based on actual events. It has a more human and darkly comedic tone than Syr­i­ana, which often felt like a very consciously-constructed intel­lec­tual puz­zle. But on the other hand, Syriana’s strict focus is per­haps a virtue; Lord of War’s sev­eral dra­matic plot­lines involv­ing the main character’s mar­riage and way­ward brother don’t always sit very well against the larger themes of entrenched human violence.

For another Nico­las Cage trea­sure hid­den in plain sight, I rec­om­mend Rid­ley Scott’s Match­stick Men.