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Overall Rating
4

Awesome52.94%
Worth A Look: 5.88%
Just Average: 35.29%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 5.88%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings



Snow Angels
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Sadly Beautiful"
5 stars

As opening sequences go, the new film “Snow Angels” certainly offers up on of the more arresting in recent movie memory. On a cold November afternoon in a small Pennsylvania town, we see a high school marching band going through the paces of rehearsing their rendition of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” while a few people watch from the sidelines. The playing is sloppy, the marching is worse and yet there is a sense of high spirits among the players as they bomb through their steps and not even the admonishments of the band director, who whips out his megaphone to remind them that every person in the formation matters, can kill the buzz. As he continues, hectoring his charges with the question “Do you have a sledgehammer in your heart?,” it is a true moment of quiet grace and it is instantly shattered by the sudden, confusing sound of a couple of gunshots in the distance that reminds us that such moments tend to be the exception rather than the rule in life. From this point, the film goes back in time to a few weeks earlier and slowly begins to spin its story that will eventually end in answering the questions of who has been shot, who is doing the shooting and why and the results of that exploration make for one of the most moving and memorable cinematic experiences that you are likely to have this year.

To get to that point, however, “Snow Angels” first introduces us to a group of people whose intertwined lives and relationships form the true heart of the film. There is Arthur Parkinson (Michael Angarano), a teenager who works at the local Chinese restaurant, plays the trombone in the band and hangs out with his cheerfully weirdo buddy Warren (Connor Paolo). Although gawky and unsure in the manner that all of us were during our high school years, he catches the eye of new girl Lila (Olivia Thirlby) and they develop a friendship that she is definitely eager to see blossom into something more. Arthur, on the other hand, is a little more reticent in these matters. For one thing, he is a little slow on the uptake when it comes to matters of the heart and it doesn’t even completely dawn on him that Lila is head over heels for him until she finally tells him this straight to his face. For another, he is currently an unwilling front-row spectator to the demise of his parents’ marriage and the sight of his father (Griffin Dunne) dithering between leaving his family for good (moving into a deeply depressing apartment, dating a newer, younger woman that he explains away to his son with the deathless phrase “She’s just like a regular person”) and yearning to come back into the fold whenever single life doesn’t completely agree with him. After bearing witness to this sad spectacle, no one could blame Arthur for being a little gun-shy in regards to the concept of an emotional relationship.

In a parallel storyline, we are introduced to another couple, Glenn (Sam Rockwell) and Annie (Kate Beckinsale), who began as high school sweethearts like Arthur and Lila and whose marriage has ended in a divorce as bitter and unhappy as the one that Arthur’s parents seem destined to endure. A former alcoholic with at least one suicide attempt in his past, Glenn has recently become a born-again Christian in an effort to pull his life together enough to reunite with Annie and their young daughter, Tara (Gracie Hudson). Alas, he is one of those people who mistakenly believe that simply saying that he has accepted Jesus is going to magically make everything better even when the self-destructive tendencies that brought him down in the first place begin to reassert themselves and when Annie isn’t keen on the idea of taking him back, things begin to spiral out of control once again. As for Annie, although she seems to be at least superficially more responsible, she has more than her share of shortcomings as well–she is once again living off of her own mother, she is sometimes too short with Tara, she is working a dead-end job in the same Chinese restaurant as Arthur (in fact, she used to be his babysitter) and she blows off steam by conducting a romance-free affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of Barb (Amy Sedaris), her close friend and co-worker.

One day, thanks to a combination of bad luck and bad timing more than anything else, there is a tragedy–one of those sudden, horrible and incomprehensible things that no one involved can really be blamed for and yet will leave them feel nothing but pain and guilt. What happens devastates everyone in the town but winds up having a profound effect on the three central couples we have been following. For one, the sad events serve as a catalyst to bring them closer together than ever before. For another, it reveals just how far they have grown apart. For the third, it is the beginning of the end as their joint inability to deal with what has happened sets in motion a terrible chain of events that gradually and inexorably leads to those gunshots on that snowy afternoon.

“Snow Angels” is the fourth film from writer-director David Gordon Green, who made one of the great debut films in recent years with 2000's “George Washington” and proved to be more than a one-hit wonder with his fascinating follow-ups “All The Real Girls” (2002) and “Undertow” (2004). Unlike his previous films, which were all originals in every sense of the word–they looked and felt like nothing else going on in American film at the time–this one was based on an outside work, an acclaimed 1994 novel by Stewart O’Nan, but the end result looks and feels just as unique and distinctive as his homegrown works. In fact, while some early reviews of the film have compared it to Atom Egoyan’s great 1997 work “The Sweet Hereafter,” it actually feels more like a work of summation on Green’s part in which he has taken the overriding themes of his three previous films–the ways in which people react and respond to tragedy (“George Washington”), the glory and awkwardness of young love (“All the Real Girls”) and the awful disintegration of a family unit by forces they cannot contain or control (“Undertow”)–and found a framework through which he can offer his final thoughts on those subjects before putting them aside to move on to the next phase of his career. (That phase, by the way, kicks off this August with the release of the highly anticipated Seth Rogen stoner action-comedy “Pineapple Express,” a film whose red-band trailer contains more genuine laughs in two minutes than virtually every other film currently in release.)

Green’s previous films were works that were less concerned with giving viewers a straightforward and propulsive narrative than they were in evoking a distinct sense of mood, place and character–if you had to cite any filmmakers as influences on his work, they would include such like-minded mavericks as Terrence Malick and Charles Burnett–and while the end results were often mesmerizing, you could easily understand why some naysayers have described his work as self-indulgent. (Not that this is necessarily a bad thing–the best and most distinctive works of art almost always turn out to be on the self-indulgent side.) Here, he has replaced that slight sense of artistic remove with a more direct style of filmmaking that makes the film easily the most emotionally accessible work of his entire career. The film is so accessible, in fact, that when I finished watching it, I thought that its directness worked against it in a strange way–that Green was avoiding the things that made his previous films so distinct in order to expand his audience and was too concerned with following the mystery of the gunshots–that it clouded my initial feelings regarding the film. In the days that followed, though, the film continued to grow and resonate in my mind I began to realize that rather than dumb his work down, he had simply figured out a new way of approaching his job as a filmmaker and the results were actually just as deep and powerful as his previous works, maybe even more so in the long run.

At the same time, however, Green hasn’t completely abandoned his previous directorial style here. The opening scene with the marching band that I previously mentioned is a perfect example of the way that he effortlessly manages to capture the nuances of everyday life while simultaneously setting up the mood and character of the story and providing images of strange, off-beat beauty. Another trademark element from his earlier films has been a tendency to include a scene or two that doesn’t necessarily advance the narrative in any meaningful way, yet still manage to provide moments of pure cinema so haunting to behold that I cannot imagine the films without them. In “Undertow,” for example, there was a moment in which Dermot Mulroney sits alone in a kitchen and eats a ghastly-looking piece of sheet cake while watching an old gospel show on a flickering television that remains one of the most palpable images of utter loneliness I have ever seen in a film. In “Snow Angels,” a similar moment comes in a scene in which Glenn, now thoroughly off the wagon, finds himself staggering around in a nearly-deserted bar before falling into a strange and halting half-dance/half-lurch with a couple of strangers to the sound of some defiantly oddball music. At one bleakly sad, blackly funny and slightly horrifying, the sequence doesn’t really add anything new to the picture–we have already seen Glenn embark on his downward spiral–and I’m not certain I could explain what it means but I do know that it feels like the key scene of the entire film to me and I suspect that most people who see “Snow Angels” will feel the same way.

In casting the film, Green has made a number of unexpected choices and without exception, his gambles have paid off in spades. For example, the grueling roles of Glenn and Annie aren’t necessarily the types of parts that you would immediately consider the likes of Sam Rockwell, who is probably known to most moviegoers for his off-beat turns in such oddities as “Galaxy Quest,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and Kate Beckinsale, an actress who is most famous these days for such high-action/low-intelligence meatball movies as “Van Helsing,” “Vacancy” and the “Underworld” films. Nevertheless, both turn in powerful portrayals of walking wounded trying and failing to cope with life in their own self-destructive ways that are arguably the finest works of their respective careers. (Some may say that Beckinsale’s considerable beauty may be too much for the small-town gal that she is portraying but in a strange way, it actually adds an extra layer of poignancy to the proceedings that might not have been as convincing had she tried to dowdy herself down.) As the younger couple, Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby are equally impressive–the former does an amazing job of conveying all the pain and confusion of normal adolescent turmoil along with a gentle sense of humor and Thirlby (who made this movie before shooting her scene-stealing role as Ellen Page’s giddy best pal in “Juno”) is such a perfect embodiment of a smart guy’s ideal high-school girlfriend that she may well inspire mad crushes from everyone who sees her here. Frankly, I can’t think of a single performance that isn’t less than stellar here–even the little girl playing Glen and Annie’s daughter comes across as more convincing than most pre-teen actors you see these days.

I would be willing to be that after merely hearing a plot description of “Snow Angels,” many of you will shrug your shoulders in confusion or distaste and mutter something along the lines of “Who would want to pay good money to see something like that?” In a strange way, I understand those sentiments completely–on the surface, it sounds like an incredibly depressing and dispiriting enterprise and if you are one of those people who just wants to go to the movies to be entertained and forget your troubles, I can see why it would sound far less appealing than the likes of “Horton Hears A Who!” or “Drillbit Taylor” or even, God help us, that “10,000 B.C.” nonsense. And yet, just because a movie deals with a depressing subject does not necessarily make it a depressing movie as long as that subject is dealt with in a fresh and exciting manner and that is certainly the case with “Snow Angels.” Material that might have otherwise made for a grim and unendurable slog in the hands of a lesser filmmaker has been instead handled by David Gordon Green in a haunting, lyrical and sadly beautiful manner and the result is a strangely exhilarating and undeniably powerful work of American cinema that is sure to go down as one of the very best films of the year.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15719&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/21/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2008 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/06/12 christopher Green is a genius. This film just flows. So deftly gauged. Truly riveting. Hats off. 5 stars
9/04/08 PAUL SHORTT LACKS DISTINCTIVENESS THAT WOULD LIFT IT ABOVE MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD DOMESTIC DRAMA 1 stars
5/08/08 Arlene White Poignant and moving, amazing acted by Kate Beckinsale. 5 stars
4/26/08 Elizabeth Beautifully acted. 4 stars
4/22/07 Julia Keegan this movie is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it captures every little detail! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Mar-2008 (R)
  DVD: 16-Sep-2008

UK
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Australia
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  DVD: 16-Sep-2008




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