The flat, unadorned plains of New Mexico become a character in Mark Fergus' thoughtful psychological thriller "First Snow," shot in and around Albuquerque. The main character, a slick salesman named Jimmy (Guy Pearce), lives in a new suburban development that's seemingly sprung up out of nowhere; the yards and surroundings have a raw newness to them, mostly devoid of landscaping. When he drives, the roads stretch on endlessly, and the darkness of the highways at night seems all-enveloping. He seems alone in the world, and dwarfed by it.
And just as those lonely highways and anonymous walls seem slightly menacing in this film's dim light, so does Jimmy, who presents a carefully maintained facade. All of his movements seem studied, from the way he ever-so-casually tosses away a cigarette without caring where it may fall, to his too-smooth laughter that betrays little mirth. Hiding behind sunglasses and a carefully maintained mane of hair (he's got an ever-present hairbrush), he's an intriguing cipher.
Early in the film, he's thrown a curve that threatens his precise calm: A soothsayer (J.K. Simmons), in a roadside trailer, is visibly rattled when gazing at Jimmy's hand. At first he won't say what disturbs him, but on a return visit Jimmy forces out the truth: He has, the psychic says, no more tomorrows, and will live only until the season's first snow.
Pearce, the intelligent core of "Memento" and "L.A. Confidential," turns "First Snow" into a moody character study as Jimmy descends into paranoia and fear; maintaining our interest even as the film, in its final half hour, seems to take a few wrong turns on the highway. But Fergus, in his directing debut (he was one of five writers credited on Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men"), shows a knack for atmosphere and tension, and a fine eye for detail. We see the tumbleweeds imprinted like lace on a car's backside and hear the threat in a dripping faucet. Much of the film is played out in the dark, with the eventual snowfall piercing our vision with its brightness. It changes and softens the harsh landscape, telling a story without words.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
Showtimes and trailer
"First Snow," with Guy Pearce, Piper Perabo, William Fichtner, J.K. Simmons. Directed by Mark Fergus, from a screenplay by Fergus and Hawk Ostby.
101 minutes. Rated R for language, drug use, sexual content and some violence. Uptown.