Adapting a beautiful novel by Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan (Exotica) may finally have bitten off more than he can chew, but the power and reach of this undertaking are still formidable. At the tragic center of the story are the deaths of many children in a small town when a school bus spins out of control and sinks into a frozen lake (depicted in an extraordinary single shot that calls to mind a Brueghel landscape) and what this threatens to do to the community, especially after a big-city lawyer (a miscast, albeit effective, Ian Holm) turns up and tries to initiate litigation. Egoyan restructures Banks’s novel (which is narrated by several characters in turn and proceeds chronologically) into a kind of mosaic narrative used in his other features, and one that has potent things to say about communal ties and the repressive machinations of capitalism that can sever them.
The Sweet Hereafter
R • 1 hour 52 min • 1997