Written by El Articulo Definido
It's a slippery slope when a film tells you in the first act that your protagonist is going to die. If I know within the first 15 minutes that my main character isn't making it, then the entire film becomes about the journey, rather than the destination. At the beginning of American Beauty we know Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham isn't making it, in fact, he's narrating this fact as we're looking at his dead body in the opening shot. Of course that technique wasn't new, having been lifted directly from Sunset Boulevard, but the journey is what excites us about both of those films. Hell, Penn and Teller Get Killed tells you the ending in the title, but their ending is so damn clever, that the closing of that film, mixed with the journey leaves the viewer feeling fulfilled. The same cannot be said of First Snow, starring Guy Pearce and written and directed by Mark Fergus (Children of Men).
From our opening scene Fergus uses his camera and script to indicate that our main character, Jimmy Starks, is a fast talker, not to mention rather vain. When Jimmy's car breaks down, the local mechanic can't fix it until nightfall so he needs to fill time by talking to a psychic who just happens to have trailer parked in the parking lot of the gas station/bar. J.K. Simmons plays our psychic and is brilliant in the role, as always. He is very soft spoken and tells Jimmy of a coming windfall, specifically from Dallas. However, he ends the session quickly when the roads in his visions abruptly stop.
When the windfall of money arrives on the coattails of Dallas, Jimmy panics and needs to know what is coming next. And so we spend our second act with Jimmy trying to draw the lines and find out who would want him dead. He has two suspects, but does one of those suspects become a self-fulfilling prophecy? In a film that talks about fate and roads traveled, so much of Jimmy's road happens due to his own actions upon finding out about his vague, but looming fate.
Between The Lookout and First Snow I really feel like neo-noir is more akin to no-noir. In the days of film noir it largely meant "dark movie, this had much to do with the lighting as well as the story. But there was story in those films and it was our protagonist, often a detective, who stumbled into the story. What is being put in the theatres now relies heavily on camerawork and taking the single individual protagonist and trying to dig into their psyche with lots of long, slow shots. Perhaps this works for some, but I feel like too much time is being wasted in an attempt to make me feel what the director wants me to feel, rather than telling a story and actually letting me feel that emotion on my own. Ultimately, First Snow is too long. Too much time is spent showing us Jimmy's breakdown and fear of his own death. I would prefer setup, then a headlong slide to the conclusion. And it would help if the protagonist was mostly likeable.
Now, I will say that the third act succeeds for the most part. Fergus begins to allow us to settle in and watch Jimmy's destruction instead of shoving it down our throats. And his use of snow in those fleeting scenes feels bleak, yet fearless. I just wish he hadn't force-fed us the conclusion and left a little more to the imagination. On a scale of five, I can offer it little more than a two. I didn't hate it, it's not a total waste of time, but it wastes too much time.