First Snow (2006) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language, some violence, drug content, and sexuality
Running time: 101 min.

Cast: Guy Pearce, Piper Perabo, William Fichtner, Andy Lopez, J.K. Simmons, Shea Whigham, Jackie Burroughs, Adam Scott, Portia Dawson
Director: Mark Fergus
Screenplay: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

Review published May 29, 2007

Jimmy Starks (Pearce, The Proposition) is a cocky flooring salesman with dreams of branching out for bigger money selling classic jukeboxes.  One day, on a rural road, his car breaks down, causing him to have to stay at a small roadside area for a bit.  While passing the time, he decides to get his fortune told from a man there (Simmons, Thank You for Smoking), who tells him he is about to make his fortune through a windfall -- a deal coming from Dallas.  The fortune teller also has a bit of a seizure after looking deeper, refuses to do anymore, and even refunds Jimmy's money. 

Jimmy thinks nothing of it until everything the man says comes to pass, but now he wonders what the fortune teller saw that freaked him out so much.  He presses further and learns that, after the first snow hits, there is no more future to tell.  Somehow, Jimmy feels he is going to die, but he's not sure from where it will come.  He gets strange phone calls at all hours of late, and distressing letters in the mail.  Is there a person sending signals he is going to kill him?   Is it the business partner he screwed over (Gonzalez, War of the Worlds)?  Is it the childhood friend out on parole who thinks sold him out (Whigham, Tigerland)?  Is the weak valve in his heart going to do him in first?  Is it all in his mind?

First Snow isn't so much a traditional thriller as it is a psychological drama, dealing with how one's future is largely controlled by events of the past.  It's also an interesting character study of how a man copes with the implied knowledge that he has only a short time to live, which makes him paranoid beyond the ability to reason, suspecting that the end could come at any time, from any place.  Jimmy's sure that there must be a way out of his predicament, but without knowing his ultimate fate, he can make no assumption other than he is going to be killed, perhaps by the unstable former friend who he re-establishes contact with, thinking it best to know for sure where it will be coming from. 

Directed by first-timer Mark Fergus, from a script he developed with co-screenwriter Hawk Ostby (both screenwriters for Children of Men), First Snow is a slow-moving but absorbing tale about a man forced to come to terms with who he is.  He is given time to tie up all of the loose ends in his life, but he stubbornly refuses to believe that there isn't some way out for him.  The more he tries to dig himself out of his predicament, the more solidified it seems to become.  Fergus's cold, bleak treatment is in perfect keeping with the chilling nature of the story, perfectly accentuated by the frost-covered environs that surround him.

Another strong performance by Guy Pearce cements this character-based story, as we see him struggle with inner demons that are largely of his own making.  He can either to choose in live in fear, to accept his fate, or to disbelieve it altogether, but his stagnation is ever-present, as he retreats within his own mind to the point where he can't think straight any longer. 

First Snow is slow to develop, but pays off for patient viewers, so if you're looking for a crackerjack thriller full of good twists and jolts, look elsewhere.  With a strong Guy Pearce performance, and supporting characters that are surprisingly rounded given what little screen time they have, it's a good drama that hits upon themes of accepting one's mortality, living without fear of the inevitable, and treating those around you as if your existence on this plane were about to expire at any time.  Better to live one's life without fear of the inevitability of death than to continue down the path of stagnation and isolation.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo