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Wound tight and cocky, Jimmy Starks is a smooth-talking salesman certain he's on the verge of a big break. Even when his car stalls in the middle of nowhere, a roadside soothsayer assures him a windfall is on its way. But although Jimmy should be happy when his boss suddenly agrees to financially back his business venture, he starts to become paranoid instead. As his girlfriend Deirdre and his best friend/ business partner Ed watch him slowly come unwound, Jimmy wonders if a past betrayal of his friend, newly paroled Vince, could be catching up to him. And, as the weather turns cold, Jimmy can't help but fear the mysterious seer's other prediction... that there'll be no tomorrow after the first snow.
Judging from other reviews and comments, missing Guy Pearce's performance in 'Memento' helps appreciate 'First Snow'. Here he impressively fleshes out the script's thin characterization of Jimmy Stark, a traveling salesman and life-long huckster who becomes convinced his impending death was foretold by a roadside psychic. The chance encounter sets into motion events he torments himself and those around him to control, thrashing from one catastrophe to another uncertain of their significance. Ultimately everything matters, major and minor, past and present cleverly interlocking for a final resolution. It's a solid and memorable portrayal of a man simultaneously forced to face both his past and his fate.
As good as it is though it's trumped by J.K. Simmons' terrific and too-short portrayal of Vacaro, the middle-aged nomad living out a solitary existence with an old pickup and camper to show for his unique 'gift'. Here the film wonderfully avoids the usual dead Hollywood clichés (humourously contrasted and lampooned at one point) for a resigned true psychic who wants little more than to go fishing. Without histrionics or gesture Simmons is utterly convincing and engrossing throughout.
If only the same can be said of the sum. With two such strong performances focused on the universal question of fate vs. self-determination it's hard to put a finger on why the film never gels. The plot offers up enough clever and well though-out twists, events unfold naturally without reliance on astronomical coincidences to guide them, supporting characters are serviceable and the cinematography fine, yet the viewer is held at a disinterested distance. Part of the blame rests on the rushed and unsatisfying ending, some of it on where the film does rely on clichés to carry sub-plots - the usual romantic candle-lit tub scene for example to develop Jimmy's relationship with his live-in girlfriend. Only when Pearce and Simmons are on screen together did I care about the characters and those scenes were short.
Pearce and Simmons tack points on an otherwise promising but mid-pack film. 7/10.
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