The Snow Walker (2003) / Adventure-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG for language and brief nudity
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Barry Pepper, Annabella Piugattuk, James Cromwell, Kiersten Warren, John Gries, Robin Dunne, Greg Spottiswood, Brad Sihvon, Samson Jorah, Michael Buble, Malcolm Scott
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Screenplay: Charles Martin Smith (based on the book by Farley Mowat)
Review published February 22, 2007

Back in 1983, actor Charles Martin Smith (The Untouchables, Starman) starred in a film called Never Cry Wolf, which was a dramatization of author Farley Mowat's study of the wolves in the tundra of northern Canada.  Apparently the experience of making that film had affected Smith, as he returns to adapt another book by the man he once portrayed with The Snow Walker

It's a simple story about a pilot, Charlie (Pepper, 25th Hour), who regularly delivers needed supplies to remote villages in northern Canada, swapping goods for furs and other items that will fetch a handsome price.  His latest excursion has a family of Inuits that pay him to fly one of their family members, a young woman named Kanaalaq, to a hospital so that she might benefit from medicine to help her sever coughing condition.  Charlie consents, but along the way, an accident occurs that results in them crash landing in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from the nearest town.  Charlie foolishly decides he's going to hoof it all the way himself, and luckily Kanaalaq follows, or he'd have died from the adverse conditions of the natural dangers and severe exertion.  Utilizing her life-long knowledge of how to be self-sufficient, Kanalaaq assists Charlie along the way to learn how to hunt, fish, make clothing, and other necessities, while they try to learn each other's language.  Meanwhile, Charlie's company tries in vain to find him, but in the vastness of the northern terrain, being isolated isn't much different than being dead.

The Snow Walker isn't anything special in the genre of survival stories, and it does proceed at a very predictable clip right up to the very end.  However, while few surprises are offered, there is a comfort in the way this story is told that should please those that enjoy such tales, especially in the touching portrayal given by Piugattuk, in her first acting role.  Barry Pepper also is solid, giving a nuanced performance that ranks among the best of his career.

Part of The Snow Walker's appeal come from the natural beauty of the northern Canadian lands, with crystal clear lakes, sparse wilderness, and beautiful, sometimes dangerous wildlife, all shot in breathtaking fashion.  Writer-director Smith keeps the characters and situations economical, always pushing the story forward at a pace that never bogs down momentum, and thankfully eschews the heavy romanticism that lesser directors would have probably played up for dramatic effect.  One message of the film is that we can co-exist with nature in harmony and spirituality if we try.

The Snow Walker may be a simple story done without any pretense, but in today's world of constant bombardment of directors that think they are personally clever, or are studio hacks spinning sensationalism for commercial profit, this is the kind of movie that is rare to see anymore, and quite refreshing in that regard.  it isn't perfect, as the constant cuts to show the search party that is out to save Charlie contrives obstacles that mean very little to the overall gist of the tale.  However, the rest is compelling in its quiet fashion, with an underlying beauty that serves its otherwise conventional story quite well.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo