Written by: David Gordon Green
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby
2008 is poised to be another excellent year for movies. There are more great films at this point (March 31st as I write) of this year than there was during the now legendary 2007. Oddly enough, there has been a common thread through all the quality material thus far, everything is dark. This trend continues with David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels.
The movie’s tone is set in the opening scene. A high school marching band is practicing for an upcoming football game in Snowy Small Town, USA (no precise location is given). Citizens are shown going about their day. The marching band make some mistakes much to the chagrin of the band teacher. Two loud gunshots in the distance interrupt the normalcy. “Weeks Earlier” flashes on the screen. For the remaining duration, we will see the events that led to this unseen incident.
This is one of those rare movies where it is difficult to decide who is the main character. I’ll just start with Artie (Michael Angarano), a teenager (and member of the aforementioned school band) who spends his free time working at a local Chinese restaurant. Also working at the restaurant is Artie’s old babysitter Annie (Kate Beckinsale). Annie is unofficially separated from her husband, Glenn, played by Sam Rockwell. Glenn, we discover, attempted suicide, and is battling alcoholism. Their young daughter lives with Annie, understandably. However, when Glenn takes his daughter out for the day we see that he is caring and trying his best to become the best man he can. Our sympathies are earned twofold when a very sober Glenn asks his wife out on a date, and his hidden charm emerges. Unbeknownst to Glenn, Annie has already begun another relationship with a married man, Nate (Nicky Katt). The sweet man we caught a glimpse of, disappears when Glenn discovers their affair. Things begin to spiral out of control. Soon, Annie and Glenn are pushed to the boundaries of their emotional endurance, which worsens moreover with an unexpected tragedy.
Meanwhile, Artie has begun a relationship with a new student, Lila Raybern, played by the remarkable Olivia Thirlby (the best friend in “Juno”). They take to one another quite quickly, and one of the sweetest on-screen teen romances of recent memory ensues. With the character of Artie, whom we witness doing drugs, we are not given one of the usual two extremes. Instead of the ridiculous, glorified stoner, or the bad kid who does bad things, we get realism. Artie is a normal teen, and he faces some tough problems, such as his parent’s impending divorce. We understand his choices, and we are therefore more forgiving.
Realism is where Snow Angels excels. Green has written and directed a painstakingly poignant slice of life. The very talented, near-perfect cast, helps accomplish this effect. Sam Rockwell is terrific, and remains one of the more interesting actors around. He plays his character so gently, that events later in the movie are made all the more devastating. Beckinsale is the one weak link. Mind you, she’s good, but that makes her the only thing less than great in the whole picture. It’s a bit of a stretch to see her as a lower class, small town citizen. The young couple in the film are absolutely spot on. Olivia Thirlby proves once again that she has an enormous amount of promise. Critic Richard Roeper went as far as too say she has a brighter future than Ellen Page. I wouldn’t make such a bold statement but Thirlby is at least second to Page, with no competition, in the young actress category. Michale Angarano is wonderful and completely believable. Bumbling yet sweet, he comes off as sort of a toned down Michael Cera. The supporting cast, led by Nicky Katt, are also very effective.
Snow Angels is a somber picture, with an impressive sustaining mood. Here we see the highs and lows of human relationships. The crumbling family, marred by Annie’s infidelity and Glenn’s substance abuse represent the worst case scenario. Artie and Lila’s relationship, which is by far the best thing in this movie, is bright, endearing and sincere. The plot gets extreme at the end. What’s shocking is how believable it is, easily this could be a true story. If you want to have a good time at the theater, avoid this one. If you want to see a truly great film, don’t.