The Sweet Hearafter
It's not enough for Canadian director Atom Egoyan and novelist Russell Banks to have the small town of Sam Dent, British Columbia deal with the tragedy of a school bus crash that took the lives of fourteen children. They've also got to include some sort of wicked dysfunctionality, which is typical of most films that think it just isn't enough to write a story that deals with basic human needs and desires.
Egoyan's film is about the process of healing and how our culture clouds that process. The character that's used to raise most of these issues is Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), an ambulance-chasing lawyer who comes into town talking about class-action lawsuits and the like. Some townspeople want the dough. Others want to chalk up the accident to inexplicable bad luck. Stephens' lynch pin for his case is a teenage girl, Nicole (Sarah Polley), left crippled by the accident.
Basically, what Egoyan's film indicates in the end - when the surprise is revealed - is that complex issues cannot be addressed in cinema unless ridiculous, pathetic melodrama is involved. For all the reality involved in the film, Sarah Polley could have announced she was possessed by the devil or that a testicle was growing in her armpit. Ultimately, the melodrama negates the seriousness of the film's themes.
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