Angels Crest: Tribeca Review

Drama about the small-town aftermath of a child's accidental death can't match its sincerity with dramatic heft.

Thomas Dekker, Lynn Collins and Jeremy Piven star in the Catherine Trieschmann-penned film about a small town grieving over the accidental death of a 3-year-old boy.

NEW YORK — Sober and heartfelt, Gaby Dellal's Angels Crest observes a small snowbound community as it processes the accidental death of a 3-year-old boy. Cast and crew's investment in the story's tragedy and its ensuing moral debates is evident in every frame, but the film isn't fully successful in generating the same depth of feeling in viewers. Familiar faces (Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Piven) in supporting parts help theatrical prospects to some extent, but a picture this serious needs better word-of-mouth than Crest is likely to get.

Thomas Dekker plays Ethan, a loving if unconventional single dad who wanders away from a parked truck long enough for his son to escape his car seat and get lost in the surrounding woods. After a desperate search, the boy is found frozen to death; while most locals are inclined to sympathize with Ethan (whose stages of grief play out mutely in Dekker's dark, emo band-ready eyes), a few — the boy's estranged mother, Cindy, and a nearby District Attorney — blame him for the death.

Crest struggles under the weight of Cindy, a promiscuous alcoholic whose hatefulness and self-pity are established with a bluntness seen nowhere else in the film. Lynn Collins brings no nuance to the part, though it's hard to blame her for failing to find depth in a script that has her comparing alcohol to others' source of strength by quipping "You have your god, I have mine."

Piven, as the D.A. prosecuting Ethan for negligent homicide, ostensibly provides the movie's dramatic push. But his questioning of townfolk feels obligatory, with Dellal methodically walking him through single-scene encounters with each potential character witness, subjecting him to a bit of friction, and scuttling him to the sidelines to await his next appearance.

In adapting Leslie Schwartz's novel, Catherine Trieschmann doesn't have her heart in these stock antagonists. She'd clearly rather be exploring little interpersonal dynamics in a town where everyone knows everyone else by name — Sorvino's ambivalence about Ethan, whom she loves despite reservations about his parenting; Elizabeth McGovern's impassioned support, clearly motivated by her own history of parenting failure. (Her performance is the most moving thing in the film.)

But Crest's sense of place never becomes rich enough to compensate for its dramatic weaknesses, and its solidly commercial production values (including stirring images of a snowy Canadian mountainside) can only carry it so far. Even before the action takes a stark (if plausible) left-turn in the final scenes, the movie will have lost even some of its most sympathetic viewers.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, World Narrative Competition
Production Company: Process, Harrow Films
Cast: Thomas Dekker, Lynn Collins, Elizabeth McGovern, Joseph Morgan, Jeremy Piven, Mira Sorvino, Kate Walsh, Barbara Williams
Director: Gaby Dellal
Screenwriter: Catherine Trieschmann
Based on a novel by: Leslie Schwartz
Producers: Shirley Vercruysse, Leslie Cowan
Executive producers: Tim Perell, William Mulroy
Director of photography: David Johnson
Production designer: Louise Middleton
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Costume designer: Christine Thomson
Editors: Mick Audsley, Giles Bury
Sales: Bart Walker, Cinetic Media
No rating, 93 minutes