Directed By: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Caerthan Banks
Tag line: "There is no such thing as the simple truth"
Trivia: Atom Egoyan was inspired to do this movie by a novel his wife Arsinée Khanjian gave him as a Christmas gift
Presenting its story in a non-linear fashion, director Atom Egoyan’s 1997 film, The Sweet Hereafter, tells the tale of a small Canadian community and the tragic event that threatens to tear it apart.
Ian Holm stars as Mitchell Stephens, an attorney who visits a snow-covered town in British Columbia where 20 children were killed in a school bus accident. Meeting with a number of grief-stricken parents, Stephens tries to convince them to bring a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of the school bus, claiming faulty construction was to blame for what happened. While many parents are on-board, some, like Billy Ansell (Bruce Greenwood), accuse Stephens of trying to exploit their pain to line his own pockets. But Mitchell Stephens knows what it means to lose a child; his daughter, Zoe (Caerthan Banks), is a drug addict who’s run away from home, calling only when she’s in need of money. During his investigation into the crash, Stephens interviews several parents as well as Nicole (Sarah Polley), the lone survivor of the incident, and what he discovers is that, like him, most everyone in town has a secret to hide.
Though it’s the key event of the film, we don’t actually see the accident until halfway through the movie, at which point we’ve already spent time with a few distraught parents, and heard from Dolores (Gabrielle Rose), the school bus driver, who spoke in detail about what transpired that terrible morning. Yet, despite the fact we know what's coming, the accident scene is devastating, and the sadness we feel for parents like Hartley and Wanda Otto (Earl Pastko and Arsinée Khanjian ) as they walk their son, Bear (Simon Baker), to the bus stop for the last time isn’t diminished in the least by our advanced knowledge of events. That director Egoyan succeeds in moving us so deeply, evoking such a strong emotional response to an incident we’re already familiar with, is nothing short of a miracle.
Unfolding like a Shakespearean tragedy, and drawing a parallel to the 16th century fairy tale The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Sweet Hereafter is a beautifully shot, expertly acted masterwork of emotion.