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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Sweet Hereafter

A story about many shades of truth

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 4, 1999 -- "The Sweet Hereafter" is a tragic story about loss and the inability of some people to heal. The story, based on a novel by Russell Banks, reveals layers of truth like the layers of an onion. The main character, Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer, is magnificently played by Ian Holm ("The Fifth Element"). He is suing various companies and a school district following a fatal school bus accident.

The accident happens in a small, close-knit Canadian community, but Stephens and other lawyers seem to be splitting the community apart. Although the accident appears to be no one's fault, Stephens is determined to find someone to blame. It soon becomes obvious he is no simple ambulance chaser. He is actually running from his own inner demons involving the loss of his own daughter to drugs.

The story is disjointed because of numerous flashbacks to the time of the accident and other flashbacks even further back in time to Stephen's past. Some flashbacks reveal incest, adultery and all sorts of illegal goings-on which some residents are eager to tell Stephens about. We see jealousy, hatred and envy, as well as love and compassion.

One of the survivors of the bus crash is Nicole Burnell (Sarah Polley), an aspiring singer prior to the accident. Polley has a luminous quality, a very strong screen presence. She becomes the central character as the film goes on, acting out the role of the crippled boy in the "Pied Piper of Hamelin." Director Atom Egoyan hits us over the head pretty hard with the Pied Piper reference just to make sure we get the point.

Despite some heavy-handedness and too many flashbacks, this is a very powerful film with some outstanding performances. It has some interesting things to say about human nature. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)