This review was written for the festival screening of "First Snow."
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Blending noirish mystery and big questions about fate in an evocative Southwestern landscape, "First Snow" is a first-rate psychological thriller. Guy Pearce, no newcomer to playing a man obsessed, adds another exquisite performance to his resume as Jimmy Starks, the tightly wound Type A personality who unravels trying to forestall his death foretold. Dealing with nothing less than our awareness of mortality, the film is a genre riff with something to say. Every scene of the vivid drama pulses with the question of how we choose to live -- whether we treat that awareness as a gift or a curse.
First-time helmer Mark Fergus and his writing partner, Hawk Ostby -- two of the credited scripters on "Children of Men" and the upcoming "Iron Man" -- use elegant storytelling to craft an involving and provocative tale. Upping the impact are the production team's ace contributions, particularly Eric Edwards' atmospheric widescreen lensing of New Mexico locations and Cliff Martinez's spare, pulse-quickening score. After the film opens March 23 in New York and Los Angeles, positive reviews and word-of-mouth will pave its road to other art-house markets.
The contemporary Southwest, with its big sky, untouched Americana and faux-adobe housing developments, is the perfect setting for a story in which nostalgia is the source of both hope and doom. Pearce's Jimmy is a longhaired rebel in a suit, an Albuquerque flooring salesman with plans to make a small fortune selling vintage Wurlitzer jukeboxes. Waiting for his car to be repaired in a desolate high-desert town -- really just a collection of trailers and vending stands -- he kills time buying a $10 fortune from Vacaro (J.K. Simmons). The laconic fortuneteller assures Jimmy that his business venture will succeed, but when a momentary seizure takes hold of him during the reading, he won't explain to Jimmy what he saw that disturbed him so.
Back home, Jimmy finds the good things Vacaro predicted coming true, one by one. But seeing the fortuneteller's abilities validated, Jimmy can't rest until he knows the details of the flip side. Back at Vacaro's trailer, he insists on a second reading, and the reluctant man tells him that his time will run out with the first snow.
Thus begins the jangle-nerved Jimmy's restless search for the cause of his impending demise. The world becomes charged with omen. A medical checkup detects a possible heart problem. He senses ill intent from Andy (Rick Gonzalez), recently fired from the flooring company. In the static on the other end of persistent phone calls to his home, he hears something threatening. But it's when he learns that an old friend has been released from prison that Jimmy believes he has found the source of that dark blotch on his lifeline. Trying to prevent a fatal encounter with Vince, the single-minded Jimmy indirectly initiates contact with the troubled man and sets off a series of cataclysmic events. Along the way, he confides not in his increasingly alienated girlfriend, Deirdre (Piper Perabo), but in his skeptical co-worker and pal Ed (an excellent William Fichtner).
The actors, all strong, give the lyrical but never artificial dialogue the ring of life. Pearce is riveting as a go-getter who finds himself trapped between a murky past and a future defined by ambition. And well before his nemesis Vince appears onscreen, Shea Whigham makes the character a menacing presence in quietly chilling phone messages and conversations with Jimmy. Even so, the question of Jimmy's sanity is never far from the surface, and Fichtner is especially enjoyable as a foil for the unhinged protagonist.
Yari Film Group Releasing and El Camino Pictures present a Furst Films and Kustom Entertainment production in association with MHF Zweite Academy Film
Director: Mark Fergus
Screenwriters: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Producers: Bryan Furst, Sean Furst, Tom Lassally, Robin Meisinger, Bob Yari,
Executive producers: Oliver Hengst, Ernst August Schnieder
Director of Photography: Eric Edwards
Production designer: Devorah Herbert
Music: Cliff Martinez
Co-producers: Chris Miller, Todd Williams, Wolfgang Schamburg
Costume designer: Lahly Poore-Ericson
Editor: Jay Cassidy
Jimmy Starks: Guy Pearce
Deirdre: Piper Perabo
Ed: William Fichtner
Vacaro: J.K. Simmons
Vincent: Shea Whigham
Andy Lopez: Rick Gonzalez
Maggie: Jackie Burroughs
Running time -- 102 minutes
MPAA rating: R