The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Blame Canada! And the bus driver!

Director Atom Egoyan’s adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel follows a grieving mountain community in the wake of a tragic school bus accident that takes the lives of numerous local children. A lawyer (Ian Holm) arrives in town to persuade the survivors to initiate a class-action lawsuit, driving apart the once tight-knit hamlet. Meanwhile, a teen crippled in the crash (Sarah Polley) must choose between mourning and moving on.

I have to say that I was really looking forward to seeing this film, knowing that almost everyone who has seen it, loves it. But for me, I didn’t love it as much as everyone else did.

Atom Egoyan does a great job here with telling this story in such a meaningful and powerful way. He plays up the subtlety of this story very well and doesn’t try to smash what he’s trying to say over our heads. Instead, his brisk pace creates a sense of anger and underlining tension between all of the townspeople and let all their decisions be their own, rather than have us drop-down into crappy soap operaish material. Egoyan also did a masterful job of filming this in Canada, because I have to say that some of the visuals here are absolutely beautiful I don’t know if this is the real way Canada actually looks, but this place is empty, sad, and overall just a depressing place to be around, which totally worked for this film when it came right down to it’s overall mood.

Egoyan also examines tragedy in such a great way because he shows plenty of insight and shows us some real dark places that are inside the human soul. People change as grief hits us, and it’s hard to cope with the loss of loved ones especially after an accident as tragic and shocking as this. I also have to say that this film does justice to the novel that this is based off of because when you have simple story like this, it’s hard to make it as effective as it would like to be. But somehow it just seems to work very very well.

My main problem with this film is that I didn’t feel any connection to these characters that I really wanted to. I think the fact that these people were so messed up after the tragedy, but before it, they all seemed like not-so likable people and I have to say that I didn’t enjoy watching these characters. Something here just didn’t grip me like I was expecting it too, and I don’t know what it was but just took away from my whole experience of watching this film. Also, the medieval score music really bugged me and made me feel like I was watching something like The Shining or a really old horror film.

The cast is filled with a bunch of total unknowns that I have probably never seen before, but a couple of them are worth mentioning. Ian Holm plays the lawyer and made me realize how much of a great actor he is. There are a lot of scenes that rely on him to bring out these heart-wrenching moments and I have to say Holm does a great job. Bruce Greenwood plays one of the townspeople who has the worst problem of coping with this accident and does a good job being one of the most interesting townspeople to watch. Sarah Polley is good in this very early role as a young girl who was crippled in the crash and makes use of her great screen presence.

Consensus: Though it may be too dark for some viewers, and may or may not grip you, The Sweet Hereafter still has some effective material about coping, or not coping with grief and the loss of loved ones.



  1. Of the Egoyan films I’ve seen so far, this is my 2nd favorite film of his with “Exotica” as my all-time favorite. It’s not an easy film to get into and some are often wondered about the ending. Yet, considering that it’s about grief and the way grief plays with the mind. It is a very compelling film and certainly one of my favorites of the 1990s.

    • It’s a good one that tells a very good story about grief, but for me, it was kind of hard to get into really. Glad you liked it a lot more than me though Steve!

  2. I understand the concerns you’ve raised regarding The Sweet Hereafter, but they didn’t distract me as much. I agree most of the characters are no likeable, but they also seemed so disturbingly real with their flaws and fallacies. The medieval score too reasonably worked for me as it managed to accentuate & establish the moodiness of the film.

    Anyway, on the whole I too liked the film as you did. It is dark and depressing, but also has a haunting quality and a fine evocation of the inherent tragic nature of life. And the somewhat unknown cast was really good. Ian Holm, as you too agreed, was especially striking in his role as the lawyer trying to recompense the tragic losses of the town people, while at the same time grappling with his own personal tragedy.

    • I liked this one to be honest, it just had it’s flaws that seemed to bother me. Although, I did feel the message rang true to human life.

  3. Nice review. I saw the movie and then forgot it. The bus going into the drink, that I sort of remember.

    Ian Holm had a one-man show doing Shakespeare back when he was young. It’s on dvd but I forget what it’s called. Worth a look, though, if you like Holm. He was quite the thing in England back then.

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