First Snow (2006)

“We’re always so sure we’re calling the shots in life.”

First Snow is an excellent thriller from first-time director Mark Fergus and starring Guy Pearce–an interesting actor who seems to conserve himself for roles he cares about. First Snow, a moody neo-noir film keeps the emphasis on suspense while exploring the inevitability of fate.

Life for glib, confident salesman Jimmy (Guy Pearce) isn’t the same after his car breaks down in a remote rest stop. Jimmy is a busy, ambitious man who doesn’t waste time enjoying life. For him, it’s all about the next sale, and he dreams of hitting the big time. Hoping to make a mint selling a stash of vintage Wurlitzers, Jimmy sees time as something to be tackled and conquered. And for this reason, Jimmy is particular annoyed when his car breaks down and he’s forced to waste a few hours. Bored and waiting for his car to be repaired, Jimmy strolls over to the local bar and gets a drink. There’s still time to kill, so he decides to have his fortune told by a cowboy.

The cowboy’s trailer doesn’t look much like the sort of place we’d expect a fortune teller to live in. The cowboy, whose name is Vacaro (J.K. Simmons) doesn’t exactly go in for fancy props–there’s no crystal ball, no costumes, just a few odd little statues. For a skeptic like Jimmy, having his fortune told is a lark, and he hands over his ten dollars expecting the usual mumbo-jumbo. As a consummate salesman, it’s as if Jimmy expects some sort of a credible experience, and he’s unsettled when Vacaro’s take-it-or-leave it attitude doesn’t ‘sell’ him on what is revealed. When Vacaro abruptly brings the fortune telling session to an end, Jimmy feels cheated by the experience.

When predictions from Vacaro bizarrely begin to come true, a vague uneasiness in Jimmy grows. And in spite of his workmate, Ed’s (William Fichtner) glib explanations, Jimmy becomes obsessed with his future and becomes convinced that Vacaro held something back….

The saying Character is fate comes to the fore in this excellent suspense film. Jimmy’s character leads him into the cowboy’s trailer in the first place, and while Ed explains away the fortune teller’s predictions, Jimmy isn’t convinced. At one point he even visits another fortune teller and asks if destiny can be changed. This fortune teller has the props Vacaro lacks, but Jimmy seems only impatient and annoyed by these trappings. Even though Vacaro isn’t much of a salesman when it comes to fortune telling, Jimmy becomes increasingly convinced that Vacaro’s dire predictions will come true.

Jimmy has a long buried secret in his past, and so he tries to change his destiny by confronting his past. The irony of this is that fate is, of course, inescapable, and the more Jimmy struggles against destiny, the more he races towards his fate.

I loved this film. I loved its moodiness and its sense of isolation. Long shots of empty highways and bleak snow covered roads of New Mexico accentuate this film’s dark mood. Noir fans–give this film a try.

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Filed under Film Noir

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