Warner Bros. // 2007 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // September 24th, 2008
Some will fall. Some will fly.
"It's easy for us to block out the things that upset us. That's what I
do. That's what most people do. But it's important that you feel through
-- Louise Parkinson to her son, Arthur.
Arthur Parkinson (Michael Angarano, The Forbidden Kingdom) is an ordinary teenager who is starting to come out of his shell. He plays trombone in the high school marching band and he's hit it off with the new girl at school. But his home life is fracturing. His father, Don (Griffin Dunne, Fierce People), a lecturer at the local college, has decided to leave Arthur and his mother so he can concentrate on his career. Don explains to his son later that it has nothing to do with that woman he is seeing.
Annie Marchand (Kate Beckinsale, Vacancy) works with Arthur at the town's Chinese restaurant. She used to be his babysitter and now she teases Arthur about wasting his Friday nights busing tables instead of dating girls. But Annie's got problems of her own, namely her estranged husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell, Charlie's Angels). They've been separated since Glenn's suicide attempt and Annie's reluctant to let him look after their young daughter. When Glenn learns that Annie is seeing another man, his jealousy leads him to drunken, violent behavior.
That's just a sampling of the characters living quiet lives in this small American town. It's the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbor and when the next high school football game will be played. And it's the kind of place where everyone is affected when they hear that unmistakable crack-boom echoing ominously across the air.
Based on the novel by Stewart O'nan, Snow Angels is another naturalistic portrait of small town life from the much touted, indie director-screenwriter David Gordon Green (Undertow). He has a gift for presenting small town life in an authentic manner that is neither quaint nor pandering. These characters are just normal people living their lives, though they're often struggling with problems that are so significant they themselves can't yet grasp the scope.
Green's storytelling style might not immediately work for some viewers. His pacing is a little more languorous than the usual Hollywood production and, here, not all of the characters' relationships are revealed in the movie's first act. But there is something masterful about Green's deliberately timed way of exposing the connections they share with one another. Starting from what appears to be snippets of individual stories, the plot gradually draws these lives closer together. Community is formed right along with the slowly building tension. When that tension is finally released, it sends a shockwave through the entire community.
Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell head a strong ensemble cast as the separated couple. Beckinsale is excellent as Annie, a caring mother who is emotionally tired and more than a little lonely. Watching the carefully measured affection she shows her husband, it's clear that she still cares for him but she's no longer in love with him. Rockwell puts in a controlled and powerful performance as Glenn, a born-again Christian who is trying to repair his marriage. "I don't care what the judge said, I'm not a dangerous person," he says, trying to convince Annie that he can look after their daughter. Underneath that skin of an irresponsible, or unbalanced, loser is a better man trying to get out.
There's also good work from Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby as offbeat but still very real teenagers cautiously stepping into the realm of romance. Their chemistry is sweet and authentic, again demonstrating the director's ability to capture wonderfully natural performances. Jeanetta Arnett (Small Town Conspiracy), as Arthur's mother -- a strong woman who keeps it together better than should be expected -- and Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy), as Annie's co-worker and friend, also do fine work in supporting roles.
The picture is excellent on this DVD. The clean image and natural colors are as cool and crisp as a sunny winter morning. The details are sharp without signs of over-enhancement. The carefully composed widescreen photography is gorgeous. However, if you don't care about that at all, on the opposite side of this flipper disc is the same movie in a modified full screen format. It's a standard pan and scan transfer that crops off a considerable amount of the picture. The 5.1 surround audio is a nice touch but the movie won't give your speakers much of a workout and sound is concentrated at the front. Still, the audio sports clear dialogue and a gently haunting score.
Did this movie have a theatrical release? David Gordon Green is an independent filmmaker, sure, but distribution through Warner Independent Pictures should be worth a lot more. His George Washington was one of the most acclaimed debut films in recent years and he helmed one of the major comedies of the 2008 summer season. If there was any marketing effort for Snow Angels, it's not evidenced on this supplement-free disc.
After demonstrating his skill as a director-for-hire with Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green might be making a different kind of movie from now on. Let's hope he continues to exhibit his gift for rich characterizations and naturalistic atmosphere that he uses so well here. Snow Angels is another masterful portrait of contemporary small town life that understands how everyone is connected, even if we're just on the periphery of each other's story.
This fine movie is free to go and find its audience. On the other hand, Warner Bros. is found in contempt of court for falling short in its marketing duties.
Review content copyright © 2008 William Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R