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  Snow Angels

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Amy Sedaris, Michael Angarano

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Produced by: Cami Taylor, Paul Miller, Dan Lindau, Lisa Muskat

Written by: David Gordon Green

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures


      As much as I recognize David Gordon Green’s potential as a filmmaker, my relationship with his work has been rocky to say the least. The movies for which he has received the most acclaim—George Washington and All the Real Girls—elicited reactions out of me that could be characterized as mixed at best. While I recognized the beautiful melancholy to be found in their depictions of everyday Southern life and cared for their characters, neither picture was able to connect with me on an emotional level, let alone break my heart. Green’s third feature, Undertow, involved me one of the best cat-and-mouse plots of the last ten years, but I still felt removed from its intended-to-be-intimate story. Walking into Green’s most recent film, Snow Angels, I hoped that the young writer/director would uniformly succeed but realized that my response to the movie would likely be less-than-impressed.

     Thankfully, Green hits at least a triple with Snow Angels, if not a complete home-run. The movie is undoubtedly his most accomplished effort to date. The reason for this is clear: he provides the average coast-based viewer (his films are usually so minimally-distributed they never reach their native South theatrically) a reason to strongly believe in the story and the characters. Sure, I could sympathize with the protagonists of All the Real Girls and George Washington in their respective colloquial contexts, but I didn’t understand them. This time around, I could feel the characters as a member of Green’s audience; I was finally able to exist among them as the movie’s images were projected onto the screen.

     The staples of the movie are the three relationships—each of a different generation—that take place at its forefront. Most fragile among them is that shared between Annie (Kate Beckinsale) and Glenn (Sam Rockwell), two thirtysomethings whose marriage was shattered by a suicide-attempt he made. Now, they’re fighting to preserve the sense of normalcy in their young daughter’s life after completely ruining their own; Annie works for next-to-nothing at a tacky restaurant and Glenn can barely find work selling carpet for an old pal’s factory. Still, Annie wants mostly to forget all about Glenn; she has begun to cheat on him with her best friend’s husband (Nicky Katt). Meanwhile, Annie’s teenage co-worker, Arthur (Michael Angarano), is discovering romance for the first time with a sweet, goofy girl he goes to school with named Lila (Olivia Thirlby). Of course, Arthur’s ability to connect with Lila suffers from some reservations he develops at the hand of his parents’ (Jeanetta Arnette and Griffin Dunne) impending divorce.

     There’s an impending sense of doom found in Snow Angels, probably because gunshots sound offscreen during the opening scene, just before Green transports the viewer back in time by a few weeks. But maybe not. Truth is, someone may indeed be killed by the end of the film, but such only seems natural within the context of the story. Even the story-thread involving Arthur—the most hopeful of the three—feels bleak. After all, what’s to say that the relationship he’s developing with Lila won’t turn into the same small-town tragedy that his parents’ marriage did? Only in a special, invigorating scene that the young characters share after spending the night together does this thought leave the viewer’s mind for more than a fleeting moment.

     Still, to say that the movie is morose doesn’t mean that it’s a trip that one shouldn’t take. In fact, it’s impossible not to come to truly love these characters: to empathize for their passions, pursuits, frustrations, loves, losses, plights. The experience of Snow Angels, no matter how dark and brooding, is ultimately hopeful because it reminds the viewer of the fact that life renews itself. Despite the characters’ troubles, the imprints they leave on their relationships last forever, presumably for the better of those around them. Even if all of the individuals in Snow Angels may not survive in the end, they still provide opportunities for others to find redemption.

     There are many reasons I felt a heightened awareness of Snow Angels’ characters as opposed to those in other Green films, not the least of which was the film’s setting. Instead of carving a story out of the pains and pleasures unique to the rural Deep South, Green here chooses to adapt a Stewart O’Nan novel set in a small Pennsylvania town that is identical to so many others in the country. (Ironically, the film was shot in the increasingly-popular filming-locale of Halifax, Nova Scotia.) Instead of dwelling on the setting that develops his characters, Green focuses on the characters that develop his setting. The filmmaker’s work finally feels as though it’s stressing a collaborative approach, allowing its cast to stand out above all of the conventions of the typical art-film rather than indulging in the creative-choices of Green the Auteur.

     Greatly aiding Green’s sharpened style are his actors, who all ensure that the potential of their characters is fully realized. Kate Beckinsale does a wonderful job in crafting a woman who is flawed and wonderful at the same time; as much as her life becomes a walking tragedy, she may just be the heroine of the film. Meeting Beckinsale every step of the way is Sam Rockwell, who realistically depicts the angst of a man who creates every reason for himself to fail but still vies for success, probably because he sees everything in black-and-white. On the younger end of the spectrum, Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby are luminous, intimately capturing a beautiful portrait of bittersweet young love within the confines of life’s hardships. Thirlby in particular yanked at my heartstrings; her performance is one of the best of the year so far.

     The movie also boasts a trait that has been uniformly excellent in all Green pictures; the transcendent cinematography of his longtime director of photography, Tim Orr. With frames filled by both billowy, white snow and isolated, yearning emotions, Orr never ceases to allow the film’s rich imagery strengthen its tone and themes. Orr also joins Green on his next project, Pineapple Express, a stoner comedy coming out this summer. That picture will certainly mark a change of pace for the two, who have only attempted to crack a handful of smiles over the course of four pictures. After Snow Angels, however, I can’t wait to see what they do with the thing. Even if I have expressed the aforementioned reservations about Green’s career in the past, this terrific motion picture proves that he’s capable of putting out work that rivals that of any other writer/director working in the Industry today.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.18.2008

Screened on: 3.13.2008 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


Snow Angels is rated R and runs 106 minutes.

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