The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Directed by Atom Egoyan
Written by Atom Egoyan, based on the novel by Russell Banks
Starring Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin, Gabrielle Rose, Peter Donaldson, Bruce Greenwood

My Advice: Don't Miss It.

The best way to sum up this film is in two words that came to me while the credits were rolling: "quietly shattering."  That and possibly the phrase "The Ice Storm done correctly."  This film achieves the level of disturbing catharsis Storm attempted to reach but would up failing laughably.  The story here is this: a lawyer comes to a small town in Canada where the sense of community has been destroyed by the loss of its children in a school bus accident.  He tries to rally the victims' families into a lawsuit, all the while having to deal with his own particular losses. 

Let me say this upfront: Ian Holm has now officially achieved acting godhood as far as I'm concerned.  He's always been excellent, but this role was beautifully delivered with all of the anguish, lawyerly pseudohonesty and pathos not only intact but frighteningly real.  Whether he's discussing the loss of his own daughter (Caerthan Banks) or trying to get others to talk about the loss of their children, he is powerful from start to finish.  The many supporting characters play out their stories beautifully as well, such as Rose's bus driver or Sarah Polley's damaged teenager.  And none of them are completely innocent.  They may not have had anything to do with the accident directly, but there are secrets everywhere.

I'm anxious to go and read the original Banks novel, since I want to see what Egoyan had to work from.  The narrative is split into multiple timelines that find us leaping from here to there with no real set timeframe except what we assume in our own minds.  There's no wonder he was nominated for Best Director last year.  This film's theme of lost children is chilling, and unfortunately very valid for these interesting times we dwell in.  A must see.

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