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Guy Pearce is one of my favorite actors--I really like the quirky, interesting characters he's created in films such as LA CONFIDENTIAL, MEMENTO, and THE PROPOSITION. In FIRST SNOW (2006) he plays another one--Jimmy Starks, a cocky, energetic salesman on the road to success until fate catches up with him.
When his car breaks down in the New Mexico desert during a business trip, Jimmy leaves it at a garage and wanders around until he comes upon the trailer of a man who tells fortunes. On an impulse, Jimmy decides it might be fun to have his fortune told, since he's working on a promising deal and wants to know if it's going to pay off as big as he thinks it will. He doesn't really believe in such hokey stuff, but what the heck?
Vacaro, the fortune-teller, is played by J.K. Simmons, who gets to be completely unlike his "J. Jonah Jameson" character in the SPIDER-MAN series for a change. Vacaro is a quiet, thoughtful man who seems a bit haunted. When he sits across from Jimmy in the trailer and grasps his hands, he first tells him to expect a financial windfall from Dallas. Suddenly, he acts as though he's just gotten an electric jolt. He doesn't want to tell Jimmy what he's seen, but when Jimmy insists, Vacaro sadly informs him that his days are numbered. "No more roads..." he says. "No more tomorrows." His psychic impressions are vague and unspecific, but he does know one thing for sure: when the first snow comes, it's over for Jimmy.
This is a pretty cool set-up for a story that will find Jimmy gradually beginning to take this prophecy seriously (especially after the Dallas one turns out to be accurate) until it becomes an obsession that twists his life inside-out. When he discovers that Vincent (Shea Whigham) a former friend who went bonkers after Jimmy betrayed him, has been released from prison, Jimmy's convinced that he's out to kill him and is overcome by raw, nerve-wracking paranoia. His erratic behavior soon threatens to drive both the love of his life, Deirdre (Piper Perabo), and his best friend and business associate, Ed (William Fichtner), away from him.
What would you do if a prophet told you your days were numbered? That's the fascinating premise of this intense, noirish thriller by first-time director and co-scripter (with Hawk Ostby) Mark Fergus, who also co-wrote the upcoming IRON MAN. The story becomes increasingly involving as Jimmy descends deeper into paranoia, desperate to escape his impending fate, until at last he decides to meet it head on. This will lead to a final confrontation with Vincent and a chance for Jimmy to set things right even if it's the last thing he ever does. Can he change his fatal destiny, or is it inevitable? In any case, the first snow is on its way.
The cast is exceptional. Aside from the always wonderful Guy Pearce, J.K. Simmons gives a quietly moving performance as the reluctant seer, Vacaro. William Fichtner (BLACK HAWK DOWN, ARMAGEDDON) continues to be a very interesting actor to watch--he's certainly come a long way from his soap opera days. Piper Perabo (COYOTE UGLY) also does a good job, as does WAR OF THE WORLDS' Rick Gonzalez as a young business associate that Jimmy screws over to his later regret. But it's Pearce who carries the gripping FIRST SNOW, and he portrays the evolution of Jimmy's character with his usual dexterity.
The movie ends on an isolated highway, surrounded by new-fallen snow. Whether by choice or by fate, this is the road Jimmy takes in a last-ditch effort to redeem his life. Is it the right one, or a dead end?
Added: Tuesday, November 27, 2007
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