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First Snow

Fate plays havoc with a salesman's existence in First Snow, a bleak psychological thriller about life and death in the New Mexico desert.


Stranded in a desolate, windswept corner of the New Mexico desert after a losing encounter with a pothole, glib flooring salesman Jimmy Starks (Guy Pearce) decides to kill some time by getting his fortune told. It's all fun and games until some of what the sad-eyed psychic (J.K. Simmons) predicted starts to come true--and leaves Jimmy wondering whether the man's presentiment of death is in the cards as well. As Jimmy's paranoia escalates, he discovers that childhood friend/former business partner Vincent (Shea Whigham) is out of jail and may be after him, bent on retribution for a long-ago falling out. His job and relationship in jeopardy, his life falling apart around him, Jimmy has to decide what he believes--and what he'll do in the face of a destiny he just might have brought upon himself.


Sharp-cheekboned Aussie star Pearce is nothing if not adept at playing conflicted, complex Americans embroiled in noir-ish circumstances (see: Memento, L.A. Confidential), and in First Snow he makes Jimmy's journey through the hellish valley of fear and suspicion seem inevitable. Jimmy is all slick swagger until he runs smack into a situation he can't talk his way out of, and his insecurity and guilt gradually snowball until he's a trembling wreck of a man. In the supporting cast, the often over-the-top Simmons turns in a nicely understated performance as the catalyst of Jimmy's breakdown--his fortune teller is a man who's looked fate in the eye and made his peace. And as Jimmy's baffled best friend and girlfriend, respectively, William Fichtner and Piper Perabo do the best they can with small, relatively thankless parts. But in the end, this is Jimmy's--and Pearce's--show.


First Snow takes some pretty big questions: Do we determine our own destinies? Can we alter the path that fate has chosen for us?--and wraps them in the trappings of a tense psychological thriller. Of course, most of that tension is generated by the film's stark desert setting, moody lighting, and sometimes overbearing soundtrack. Very little actually happens to justify Jimmy's ever-increasing panic, which might be writer/director Mark Fergus' point. Nothing is a greater threat to a person's happiness than that person's own fears. But unfortunately, the movie is a little too bleak and meandering to make that point as effectively as it could have, leaving viewers as adrift as a salesman with car trouble in the desert, with winter just around the corner.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.