Judge Paul Pritchard has a lot to do before the first snowfall. He's moving to the equator.
The End Is Closer Than You Think.
Serious pacing issues plague Mark Fergus' debut feature, First Snow, a slow-burning thriller that places a little too much emphasis on the slow. It's all such a shame, too, as the film's intriguing premise and rock-solid cast promise so much.
Beginning strongly, First Snow has cocksure salesman Jimmy Starks (Guy Pearce, Memento) killing time in a desert town by visiting psychic Vacaro (J.K. Simmons, Juno). After predicting financial success, along with an unlikely win for Jimmy's hometown basketball team, Vacaro has an unexpected reaction, seeing something in Jimmy's future that clearly unsettles him.
A complete skeptic, Jimmy pays no mind to Vacaro's readings, passing it all off as something of a joke. Yet when Vacaro's predictions come to be, Jimmy becomes obsessed with what caused the strange behavior in Vacaro that resulted in the reading being brought to an abrupt end. Despite Vacaro's reluctance to do so, Jimmy forces the psychic to tell him what he saw in his future. Vacaro's words cut straight to Jimmy's soul: "No more roads. No more tomorrows. Not much time left." Informing him that he will be safe "until the first snowfall," Vacaro and Jimmy part ways.
With one eye on the weather, Jimmy sets out to alter his future, just as a figure from his past returns, one that could well be linked with the events to come.
A solid opening act that introduces us to each of the main characters while setting up the story is complemented by a final act that builds layer upon layer of tension; never allowing us to second guess the outcome. Unfortunately, the film unravels during a troubled second act that is a little too leisurely in its pacing and loses too much momentum. The movie begins to lose direction as Jimmy searches for something, anything, to change his destiny. While these moments serve to help us better understand Jimmy's faltering state of mind, they seem to go around in circles and become tiresome. Perhaps trimming the film's running time would have made for a more satisfying experience, but there is no doubt that a lot of good work is undone during these moments.
Carrying the film ably, Guy Pearce continues to show that, though the Hollywood A-list may not yet be his domain, his mastery of his craft is unquestionable. His performance as Jimmy feels remarkably natural, never trying to force us to like him, we are simply given the chance to bear witness to Jimmy's reaction to the bizarre circumstances he finds himself in and the personal journey he takes as a consequence. Both Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) and William Fichtner (Ultraviolet) produce fine work, despite a lack of screen time, while J.K. Simmons once again makes the most of his supporting role. As in the Spider-Man trilogy and Juno, Simmons produces yet another memorable character in the guise of psychic Vacaro. While I initially thought Simmons was an odd choice to play a fortune-teller, he soon had me convinced nobody else could have played the role, so convincing is his performance.
The DVD release has the choice of a full-screen or a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Either way, the disc's presentation is truly outstanding. Colors are excellent, with black levels being particularly impressive. The picture is consistently sharp, with high levels of detail in both well-lit, and darker scenes. The disc's audio is a similarly impressive story. Clear and crisp, the 5.1 soundtrack is hard to fault, doing its job perfectly. With the exception of a few trailers, Sony's release of First Snow is about as barebones as you can get.
Despite a serious drop in pacing that could lose your interest for 30 minutes or so during the second act, First Snow contains some interesting ideas, an excellent cast, and some promising signs from director Fergus. A little tightening up would have seen First Snow getting a hearty recommendation, sadly it never fully realizes its potential and is guilty of taking its eye off the ball. It's a worthy rental, but I can't help but feel this could have been so much more.
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