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SNOW ANGELS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Jeannetta Arnette, Griffin Dunne, Nicky Katt, Tom Noonan, Amy Sedaris, Olivia Thirlby
Director: David Gordon Green
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: September 16, 2008

ďTell me when youíre ready.Ē

ďIím ready.Ē

Film ****

Certain films have the ability to drain the life out of you. By that, I mean that after seeing the film, it feels as if you yourself have just experienced an emotional rollercoaster. David Gordon Greenís Snow Angels is that very kind of film.

You feel drained because the filmís story feels very much like glimpses of real life captured on film. As a writer/director, Green has a remarkable knack for nailing all the details about human relationships. And he has taken that ability and made a haunting and tragic drama that deserves a place alongside such fantastic dramatic fare as Monsterís Ball, Ordinary People and most especially Little Children.

For this film, Green has adapted a novel by author Stewart OíNan. The only major difference is the time setting. Where as the 1994 novel took place in the 1970s, the film is set in the present.

The setting is a snowy, undisclosed small town, a town so small that everyoneís lives are very much intertwined. The opening scene involves a high school bandís preparation for an upcoming football game. The bandleader is addressing his students, only to be interrupted by several gunshots heard in the distance.

The story then flashes back a few weeks leading up to that incident. Green structures the story into two separate areas. One representing gloom, the other a portrait of hope and love.

The first of which is the story involving Annie (Kate Beckinsale), who has recently separated from her husband, Glenn (Sam Rockwell), a recovering alcoholic who means well but is pretty much a screw up. But Annie isnít much better herself, as she is engaging in an affair with the husband of her co-worker and longtime friend, Barb (Amy Sedaris)

The second storyline concerns Arthur (Michael Angarano), a young high schooler whose enduring his own personal pain. His father (Griffin Dunne) and mother (Jeannetta Arnette) have separated, with the father soon moving on to a new relationship. In the midst of his depressed state, Arthur finds himself connecting with Lila (Olivia Thirlby), a recently transferred student, at the best possible time.

And Arthur is connected to Annie in two ways. They both are employed at a local restaurant, but she also babysat Arthur when he was little. He even confesses that Annie was the very first crush he ever had.

Once the two separate story relationships are established, the film switches tones and becomes an escalating tragedy from the midway point. Without giving any details away, something unimaginably awful happens. Itís an incident that casts a dreadful shadow for the rest of the story, and as the opening scene indicates, there is no happy ending in sight.

For David Gordon Green, this is an astounding triumph, which is saying a lot since he has delivered nothing but phenomenal work since his first film, George Washington, in 2000. Snow Angels represents his most powerful storytelling yet. And although this film doesnít incorporate a lot of the poetic, Terrence Malick-esque visuals in his previous films, there is more than enough luminous scenery to appreciate. Not since A Simple Plan has the presence of snow felt more authentic.

As far as the acting is concerned, this is monumental work for all involved. That is particularly the case for Kate Beckinsale, who has never been more fantastic. Her emotional state, especially in the second half of the film, is so raw and effective that itís almost painful to watch.

Sam Rockwell is equally terrific in a most complex role. An actor known for playing eccentrically insane individuals, Rockwell surprised me with how he chose to play this character. He couldíve easily chose to go over the top with his role, but he plays Glenn in a much more realistic manner, thus making him all the more frightening.

Lastly, Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby should be given credit for bringing to the screen the most beautiful and realistic teenage romance sinceÖwell I donít know when. They communicate in a way you might hear two teenagers on the verge of love talk. Itís so rare to see a relationship develop on screen between two teenagers that doesnít seem superficial.

Without question, Snow Angels is one of the yearís truly best films. It may be too much for sensitive viewers to deal with, and trust me there is a lot of tragedy surrounding the story. But if you are in search of a truly powerful drama complete with remarkable acting, writing and directing, then you canít afford to pass this one up.

Video ****

I always look forward to experiencing a David Gordon Green film on DVD, because his films always promise fantastic cinematography that shines on the format. The presentation for Snow Angels does not disappoint in the slightest, as the anamorphic picture is tremendous in its crisp image, rich color and detailed tones. Green and cinematographer Tim Orr once again create a remarkable series of images that look tremendous. The disc itself is a double-sided release, and the full screen version is also included. That version should be ignored completely since all of Greenís films demand to be experience in widescreen. 

Audio ***1/2

A film by David Gordon Green also promises a strong and special type of audio performance. Special in the sense that despite his films mainly being dialogue driven, the music and balance between it and the dialogue is always remarkable. The 5.1 mix accomplishes that very distinct quality. The final sequence, which will have your jaw hitting the floor, is made all the more effective by the strong sound mix.

Features (Zero Stars)

Absolutely nothing, and this is one film that really deserved a commentary track or at least one behind the scenes documentary.

Summary:

David Gordon Greenís Snow Angels is quite simply one of the best dramatic films Iíve seen this decade. Itís pulls no punches, and by the final frame you will feel as if youíve had the wind knocked out of you. If you can stomach some depressing material, this is a film you cannot afford to miss.

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