Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Griffin Dunne, Nicky Katt, Olivia Thirlby. Rated R.
Storming through the windswept countryside en route to his
latest in a series of short-lived, dead-end jobs – this time, in a return
engagement as a salesman at the local carpet factory – Glenn (Sam Rockwell) is
a bundle of frayed nerves and dangerously unstable energy. Having given up his
hard-drinking habits for the fleeting serenity of life as a born-again
Christian, he is never more than a single setback from coming undone, whether
that setback comes in the form a fight with his estranged wife Annie (Kate
Beckinsale) or something more calamitous.
There are plenty of directionless souls in Snow Angels, the relentlessly grim drama from George
Washington director David Gordon Green, but
Glenn is the most combustible, a well-meaning misfit in search of an excuse to
self-destruct. Wherever he goes, there follows a looming sense of dread, and
even as he pledges to provide for his daughter (Grace Hudson) and win Annie
back, one fears that his best efforts can only end in failure.
Glenn and Annie are
one of three couples whose lives
intersect in Snow Angels, and though
their story is the most cautionary, they hardly suffer alone. Based on the
novel by Stewart O’Nan, whose characters wander hopelessly through their sleepy
lives in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania, the film offers moments of sly,
subtle humor, but even those are not enough to mitigate an ending that feels
unnecessarily harsh and all too inevitable.
Although Rockwell dominates the screen with his
portrayal of a man descending perilously into an alcohol-fueled depression, the
film’s saving grace is the burgeoning romance between Arthur (Michael
Angarano), a sweetly innocent high school student, and Lila (Olivia Thirlby, of
Juno), who is charmingly awkward as a vulnerable,
cautious seductress. Their romance unfolds without a
hint of contrivance, and in a movie that seems a bit too focused on the tragedy
of its brutal denouement, Arthur and Lila’s struggle to find warmth in the
bitter cold seems uncommonly optimistic.
Even so, Snow Angels
is more a collection of standout performances than anything else –
Green’s handling of O’Nan’s prose is faithful but needlessly heavy-handed.
Rockwell, who brought a sense of desperate unease to his roles in The
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, does the same here, with results that are at once
frightening and pathetically sad. He is a beaten man, yearning to rediscover
happiness in the arms of a former lover who has long since checked out.
Beckinsale, who has rarely displayed such dramatic range, is surprisingly
well-suited to the role, even if Annie seems too strong and sensible to have
fallen in with the likes of Glenn.