Directed By: David Gordon Green
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Jeanetta Arnette , Griffin Dunne, Amy Sedaris, Nicky Katt
In Snow Angels, Michael Angarano plays Arthur Parkinson, a teen who awkwardly attempts to negotiate his first romantic relationship with Lila (Thirlby), a girl who has recently transferred to his school. Arthur and Lila's budding romance is thrown into relief by a series of long term relationships in various states of disintegration. These include Arthur's recently separated parents, Don (Dunne) and Louise (Arnette). The adult relationship the film follows most closely is that of Arthur's former babysitter, Annie (Beckinsale), and her husband, Glenn (Rockwell), who have been separated for some time and are the parents of a young daughter. Glenn is clearly hurting, possibly unstable, and trying with limited success to pull the pieces of his private, professional, and spiritual life back together. For her part, Annie is trying to cope with the problems of single motherhood while working in a Chinese restaurant which also employs Arthur and her best friend, Barb (Sedaris). Annie is also having secret liaisons with Barb's husband, Nate (Katt), the discovery of which leads to even more fractured relationships. Personal tragedy and the inability to connect with or forgive people they once loved leads some of these characters towards dire consequences.
Director David Gordon Green, who adapted the screenplay from Stewart Onan's novel of the same name, uses his talented ensemble cast to explore themes of deteriorating relationships and the difficulty of forgiveness from a variety of perspectives. Angarano and Thirlby offer a sensitive but not overly precious view of teens experiencing a budding romance, which contrasts with the recent separation of Arnette and Dunne as Angarano's parents, the troubled history of Rockwell and Beckinsale's characters, and the exposed philandering that poisons the relationship of the characters played by Sedaris and Katt. The cast is uniformly strong and infuses the proceedings with a believability that allows the film to balance deeply tragic and occasionally comic moments without ringing a false note.
Such a balance is illustrated in a funny scene early in the film when a marching band leader desperately trying to get the band members to execute a routine set to a Peter Gabriel song asks his charges "Do you have a 'sledgehammer' in your heart?". This is followed by two gunshots which, as the film flashes back and gradually reveals their source, suggest a sadder interpretation of the heart as a sledgehammer than the band director (or Peter Gabriel) could have anticipated. This also gives the film something of a "reverse Kafka" structure in that rather than showing a gun that viewers know will eventually be fired, Green presents the viewer with two audible shots. The viewer then spends most of the rest of the film wondering from which gun they originated.
In addition to eliciting strong performances from his cast, Green applies a deliberate and contemplative style to the film through his composition and editorial choices which allows it to breathe and carry a real dramatic weight. Perhaps his only real misstep is to oversell a couple of significant dramatic moments with aggressive camera zooms intended to underline the emotions the actors were already conveying adequately. Other than two such moments, he trusts his cast to deliver and they do.
The 16:9 enhanced video presentation is usually quite good, with better than average detail for single layered feature film. It does, however, succumb to compression artifacts from time to time suggesting that while the image was not heavily filtered before encoding, there was not sufficient bitrate to render some of the more problematic shots. With so many exterior shots against snow and sky backgrounds, any small amount of high contrast edge ringing becomes quite easy to detect, and it does occasionally rear its head, although in a very thin, low intensity flavor that will likely only be noticeable to viewers watching on very large displays.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is presented at a bitrate of 384 kbps. The mix is appropriately restrained, with plenty of dynamic range available for sporadic moments when it is required such as the gunshots punctuating the film's opening segment. Other than that, the surrounds are used for little more than light ambience, which seems entirely appropriate for the intimate world represented by the film. Fidelity is quite good, with well integrated dialog, music and effects spread across the front three channels. A couple of scenes featuring the marching band seem especially well-recorded. A French dub track is also available in Dolby Digital 5.1.
No extras are included.
When the disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promos and PSAs, all presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio:
- Anti-Piracy PSA with scenes from Casablanca (4:3 video – 1:00)
- Towelhead Theatrical Trailer (16:9 enhanced – 2:12)
- Run Fatboy Run Theatrical Trailer (4:3 letterboxed video - )
- Anti-smoking PSA[/i] with cowboy singing "You Don't Always Die from Tobacco" (4:3 letterboxed - :34)
The DVD is packaged in a standard Amaray case with no inserts. The cover image mixes the "big star head" theory of movie promotion (giant Beckinsale face on upper half) with the "single striking image from the film" approach (long shot of snowy field with small looking characters near lake on bottom half). The disc is a double sided single layered DVD-10 "flipper" with the widescreen and fullscreen versions on opposite sides of the disc.
David Gordon Green's Snow Angels is a sensitive, occasionally comic, but ultimately tragic drama featuring an outstanding ensemble cast. It is encoded on disc with a decent, but occasionally bit-starved widescreen video presentation, an unreviewed by me 4:3 reformatted video presentation, a modest but effective Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix, and no extras.