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      Snow Angels
    Therein lies cherub

    By the time this intense, well-made drama has run its inevitable course you might well want to collapse in the snow and wave your own arms up and down in surrender.


    Divorce sucks. Adultery sucks. Losing a loved one sucks. And you haven't really suffered, aurally, until you've heard 'Sledgehammer' performed by a High School marching band.

    Written and directed by: David Gordon Green.
    Produced by: Dan Lindau.
    Adapted from Snow Angels by: Stewart O'Nan.
    Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Nicky Katt, Amy Sedaris, Jeanetta Arnette, Griffin Dunne, Tom Noonan.
    Cinematography: Tim Orr.
    Music by: Jeff McIlwain, David Wingo.
    Production design by: Kate Rose.
    Art direction by: Kate Rose.
    Costumes by: Kate Rose.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Unfortunately, a Peter Gabriel song isn't the only thing murdered in "Snow Angels," the new film from writer/director David Gordon Green. Like his previous blue-collar rural dramas "All the Real Girls" and "Undertow," "Snow Angels" is a depressing slice of small-town life that you imagine, as you watch, surely can't get any more depressing — until it does. And then it gets more depressing still.

    It's winter and the snow, like the change and challenge of intimate relationships, is ever present. Arthur (Michael Angarano) plays trombone in the school band and busses tables in the local Chinese restaurant alongside Annie (Kate Beckinsale), his former babysitter. Annie has a young daughter of her own now and is estranged from her husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell), a jealous, intense Christian type with anger issues and a suicidal past. Annie is sleeping with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of her best friend and work colleague Barb (Amy Sedaris) and Arthur's parents, played by Griffin Dunne and Jeannetta Arnette, are also in the middle of a nasty separation.

      Snow Angels
    Despite all the male-female unrest in his life, Arthur is nevertheless intrigued by Lily (Olivia Thirlby), the dweeby new girl on the block.

    You'll thank the angels for Arthur and Lily. They're the brightest of lights in Green's stark tragedy. They bring grace and charm and hope to the proceedings. They are the embodiment of youth: green, awkward, still blissfully unaware of their own inner beauty. Angarano (the "super" kid from Disney's "Sky High") and Thirlby ("Juno"'s girlfriend) play them sympathetically and delightfully. Their relationship buds and blossoms before our relieved eyes, peeking out from under the snow like brand new crocuses.

    You'll thank the angels for Arthur and Lily. They're the brightest of lights in Green's stark tragedy.  

    And then, by contrast, there are the grown-ups: fighting, cheating, drinking — trying to get by. When Annie's daughter disappears one afternoon on mom's watch (Annie is laid up on the couch nursing a head cold) events quickly begin to spiral out of control, "leading to a violent climax that will shatter the serenity of this close-knit community."

    "Snow Angels" is filled with natural, convincing performances and written so effortlessly it feels like we're eavesdropping on someone else's neighbors (director Green wrote the screenplay based on Stewart O'Nan's novel). Beckinsale is particularly strong as a young mother trying to build a new life for herself and her daughter; Rockwell and Angarano both contribute fine work here too.

    It's more a film to admire than to like, however. Its bleak tone, occasionally peppered with lighter moments, is hard to take for 106 minutes. By the time this intense, well-made drama has run its inevitable course you might well want to collapse in the snow and wave your own arms up and down in surrender.

    MAY 27, 2008

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