[EDITOR'S NOTE: Steve Ramos reviewed David Gordon Green's "Snow Angels" following its world premiere at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.]
The moment in "Snow Angels" that qualifies stand-alone filmmaker David Gordon Green as the most artful of film masters occurs when Glenn (Sam Rockwell), a broken man, dances with two drunken patrons at a rundown tavern in the small Pennsylvania town he calls home. A birthday cake sits on a nearby pinball table without explanation. The room is dark, so dark that it's hard to say if one of the shuffling patrons holding Glenn is a man or woman. But everything is placed with the same attention to perfect detail as his previous three feature films, "Undertow," "All the Real Girls" and his best film, "George Washington."
Glenn's dance brims with true human feeling. It's a brave sequence, something I can't imagine another American filmmaker attempting. That's what separates Green's filmmaking from all others - his bravery for tackling unique storytelling.
Glenn (Rockwell) and his pretty wife Annie (Kate Beckinsale) have separated and both struggle to piece their lives back together. Glenn wants reconciliation with his wife and young daughter. Meanwhile, she embarks on an affair with a married man. As bad decisions lead to tragedies, "Snow Angels" makes a turn midway and shifts from family melodrama to a a thriller with a climax alongside a frozen lake. Of course, this is a thriller done the David Gordon Green way, meaning it's quiet, subtle and completely natural.
Sam Rockwell gives a physical performance, bashing his head against his pick-up truck. Rockwell does what Green needs everyone to do - he comes off believably as a regular Joe. Michael Angarano puts his aw-shucks personality to good use as Arthur, an affable teen who works with Annie. Olivia Thirlby stands out as Arthur's nerdy girlfriend. Theirs is the sweetest on-screen kiss in recent memory.
The only false notes belong to the too beautiful Kate Beckinsale. It's as if she's the only cast member who refused to wipe away her Hollywood make up for the sake of the story. "Snow Angels" is Green's first film shot above the Mason Dixon line as well as the first feature he adapted from a novel instead of his own writing. Yet, "Snow Angels" syncs perfectly with everything Green has shown audiences up to this point (including beautiful work from his regular cameraman Tim Orr). Green's growth is his ability to craft suspense.
The undeniable truth of Green's filmmaking is that there is no ambivalence about his movies. You either love his sense of deliberately paced naturalism or you find it lulling. Point Blank: I am a fan and will always celebrate his work.
[For more about "Snow Angels," read David Gordon Green's interview with indieWIRE from the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.]
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steve Ramos is an award-winning film writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not on assignment, he maintains the blog Flyover Online.
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