FIRST SNOW (Mark Fergus, 2006)
Sidelined in a New Mexico desert town until his car can be repaired, flooring salesman Jimmy (Guy Pearce) bides his time getting some diner grub and extolling the virtues of a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox to his bartender. Left with nothing better to do, Jimmy wanders by a fortune teller working out of his silver camper and decides to pay for a reading. He figures it ought to be good for a laugh, but the experience leaves him unsatisfied. Vacaro (J.K. Simmons) starts with the usual rigamarole about the outcome of a basketball game and a financial windfall. Then he seizes, presumably from what he envisions, declares the session over, and refunds Jimmy's fifteen dollars.
In FIRST SNOW Jimmy thinks nothing of it until the predictions are fulfilled and troubling occurrences begin piling up. He gets recurring staticky phone calls in which no one on the other end speaks. A physician discovers that Jimmy has a lazy heart valve that presents no immediate concerns but needs to be monitored. He has to inform a coworker of his dismissal and later finds a shooting range target in his mailbox.
Jimmy obsesses over what Vacaro must have seen that led him to cut short the reading. He ditches work to demand answers from the trailer park oracle, but the most specific information he gets is that his remaining time will last until the first snow.
In MEMENTO Guy Pearce's character couldn't remember what happened to him minutes before; in FIRST SNOW he is haunted with the knowledge of his imminent death. While these opposing predicaments provide pleasing symmetry in the actor's body of work, just one film is worth the time that's so precious to Pearce's protagonists.
FIRST SNOW'S stumbling point is the non-starter nature of the story. Early scenes lay out where the plot will lead Jimmy and never waver. Sure, he can go into paranoid freakout mode and hole up in a hotel room in an attempt to avoid the fate awaiting him. It doesn't matter. All he can do is make things right before his time expires.
In terms of the five stages of grief, Jimmy spends most of the film in denial and anger--understandably so--but it grinds FIRST SNOW into dramatic inertia. The trickle of information about what wrongs Jimmy must atone for compounds the film's frustrating stillness. Considering that the character is powerless to change his dilemma's outcome, or so he believes, adding emotional context to his choices in life would deepen the tragedy. Instead FIRST SNOW shrugs its shoulders and fails to give Jimmy much substance. Additionally, he never becomes fully active in embracing his destiny, so when he plays the part he knows is required, his rote actions fail to carry any weight.
Writer-director Mark Fergus and co-writer Hawk Ostby were among the five credited for the CHILDREN OF MEN screenplay. Pearce has built his career playing complex and fascinating characters. Unfortunately, FIRST SNOW produces merely a dusting of what these key collaborators are capable of doing.