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SWEETLAND

I Game Theory Films I May 3, 2024 I 104 mins. I

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TBA

* As of 5/10/24

Starring:  Paul Sand, Alex Kingston, Ned Beatty, John Heard, Alan Cumming, Tim Guinee, Lois Smith, Patrick Heusinger, Elizabeth Reaser

Directed By:  Christian Sparkes

The story of an endangered Newfoundland community and the struggles of one man determined to resist its extinction.

REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

RATING 3 out of 5

Sweetland has an entrancing sense of storytelling that invests the audience in the resettlement strategy of the Newfoundland government as the impact on members of these communities are explored in a strongly directed film from Christian Sparkes led by two great performances from Mark Lewis Jones and Sara Canning.

 

Ever since visiting Newfoundland last summer, I have been intrigued by the concept of resettled communities. For decades, the government relocated isolated, small villages to centralize the population, with the last community to do so was only five years ago in 2019. It’s an intriguing social concept, ripe with controversy as it forces individuals to give up their homes and relocate for the promise of money and a better life. And that is the social idea at the centre of Sweetland, which is based on the novel from Canadian author Michael Crummey. 

 

While the film’s story moves at a slower pace, it moves with a purpose. Audiences are introduced to our main character Moses and the community of Sweetland near the end of the resettlement process, with only Moses and two other residents refusing to accept the government’s deal. Moses’s way of life is detailed in all its simplistic beauty, helping the audience to understand his character’s attachment to the community and its land, and his resistance to completely uprooting his life. The interactions with the townsfolk are all well crafted to capture the varying opinions towards resettlement, and sadly the hurtful actions towards those like Moses who are not ready to completely reinvent their lives. As Crummey and his co-screenwriter Christian Sparkes, who also directs the film, lay the groundwork for the brewing conflict, the pivotal event occurs halfway through the film and creates an emotionally harrowing second half as the viewers and Moses see the effects of resettlement on the townsfolk. For those viewers interested in a slower moving character study of a man and town at a crossroads are in for a treat with this film as it is all handled very well, but those not interested in this type of story are going to find little value in the film. 

 

And it's all anchored by two strong performances from Mark Lewis Jones and Sara Canning, both of whom are excellent throughout the film, and strong direction from Sparkes. Jones captures the stubbornness of Moses, set in his ways and life in Sweetland, while capturing the heartache of this lonely man desperately trying to grasp onto the last sense of normalcy in his life. With the opposing view to Moses, Canning captures the younger and more open view to resettlement within her character Clara, open to the opportunities to provide a better life for herself and her son in a more developed location. Between the two of them, there is a great dynamic mixing the opposing views to resettlement, while having a deep caring for each other which brings the story to life. It’s all under Sparkes’ direction, which ensures that the human conflict is not lost in the film, allowing the viewers to witness an honest portrayal of resettlement and its effects on individuals within the town who are left with no choice but to completely change their way of life.

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One of the highlights of Sweetland is the gorgeous scenery that Newfoundland brings to the film. There are lots of lingering shots that capture the remote beauty of this Atlantic province in its landscapes, jagged coastlines and the ocean. At the same time, the eerie quietness with only the sounds of nature and no sign of human life outside the small town of Sweetland creates an unsettling stillness to the film which helps to articulate the remoteness and lack of opportunity faced in these communities that are subject to resettling. This helps to explain to viewers why individuals would be willing to uproot themselves and start all over again, and why the government is trying to remove these communities and increase population density. 


While it’s not bound to break the box office or be the greatest Canadian film of the year, Sweetland stands on its own merits. Its exploration of an important social issue with the resettlement of communities in Newfoundland and the effect such policies have on the individuals living in those communities is honest, profound and will no question move audiences who are interested in the subject matter. Beautifully shot and well directed by Christian Sparkes which paves the way for two compelling performances from Mark Lewis Jones and Sara Canning, Sweetland is a stirring piece of storytelling that is definitely worth your time.

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