First Snow

Aussie actor Guy Pearce has spent several years in the cinema wilderness, wandering through disastrous flops (The Time Machine) and little-seen but intriguing indies (The Proposition), since 2000, when the famously twisty crime thriller Memento put him on the fast tack to stardom. Now he’s wisely decided to dance with the genre who brung him, so to speak, with a small scale, crafty existential bit of noir that plays to his strengths. Good move, because while First Snow might not signal his return from relative obscurity, it does showcase his simmering intensity, and ability to rivet an audience’s attention even while the plot drifts quietly away. Pearce has razor-sharp cheekbones, movie-star magnetism and a piercing gaze that keeps you guessing what’s going on behind his eyes long after the story line has tipped its hand.

Here he stars as factory-standard noir protagonist Jimmy, a frustrated flooring salesman with big dreams of moving up to his own more glamorous jukebox concession. He ambles across the dusty plains of New Mexico with a cowboy swagger and a used car salesman’s grin, though his wardrobe and dirty, stringy hair make him look more like a nightclub coke dealer. Sure enough, Jimmy has a less than honest career history, and according to a crusty roadside soothsayer (J.K Simmons) he doesn’t have much of a future.

Freaked out by his foretold date with destiny coming with the first snow of the season, Jimmy races to square his accounts with his job, his health, his live-in girlfriend (Piper Perabo) and an old partner in crime who keeps making threatening phone calls. All this existential gloom leads to a silly ending that’s not nearly as clever as screenwriter Hawk Ostby seems to think it is, but is well suited to all the ominous foreshadowing that led up to it. First-time director Mark Fergus does a nice job of setting atmosphere, and there are buckets of it here, though occasionally the pace slows to icy irrelevance. If not for the valiant efforts of the leading man, this minor mystery would be as disposable as the million other cheap thrills it borrows from, and we can only wonder if fate has something better in store for Pearce.

Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].