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Snow Angels ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Rockwell and Beckinsale share an uneasy chemistry as estranged lovers in Snow Angels.

(Courtesy of SFStation.com)

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Griffin Dunne, Nicky Katt, Olivia Thirlby. Rated R.

Storming through the windswept countryside en route to his latest in a series of short-lived, dead-end jobs – this time, in a return engagement as a salesman at the local carpet factory – Glenn (Sam Rockwell) is a bundle of frayed nerves and dangerously unstable energy. Having given up his hard-drinking habits for the fleeting serenity of life as a born-again Christian, he is never more than a single setback from coming undone, whether that setback comes in the form a fight with his estranged wife Annie (Kate Beckinsale) or something more calamitous. 

There are plenty of directionless souls in Snow Angels, the relentlessly grim drama from George Washington director David Gordon Green, but Glenn is the most combustible, a well-meaning misfit in search of an excuse to self-destruct. Wherever he goes, there follows a looming sense of dread, and even as he pledges to provide for his daughter (Grace Hudson) and win Annie back, one fears that his best efforts can only end in failure.

Glenn and Annie are one of three couples whose lives intersect in Snow Angels, and though their story is the most cautionary, they hardly suffer alone. Based on the novel by Stewart O’Nan, whose characters wander hopelessly through their sleepy lives in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania, the film offers moments of sly, subtle humor, but even those are not enough to mitigate an ending that feels unnecessarily harsh and all too inevitable.

Although Rockwell dominates the screen with his tortured portrayal of a man descending perilously into an alcohol-fueled depression, the film’s saving grace is the burgeoning romance between Arthur (Michael Angarano), a sweetly innocent high school student, and Lila (Olivia Thirlby, of Juno), who is charmingly awkward as a vulnerable, cautious seductress. Their romance unfolds without a hint of contrivance, and in a movie that seems a bit too focused on the tragedy of its brutal denouement, Arthur and Lila’s struggle to find warmth in the bitter cold seems uncommonly optimistic.

Even so, Snow Angels is more a collection of standout performances than anything else – Green’s handling of O’Nan’s prose is faithful but needlessly heavy-handed. Rockwell, who brought a sense of desperate unease to his roles in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, does the same here, with results that are at once frightening and pathetically sad. He is a beaten man, yearning to rediscover happiness in the arms of a former lover who has long since checked out. Beckinsale, who has rarely displayed such dramatic range, is surprisingly well-suited to the role, even if Annie seems too strong and sensible to have fallen in with the likes of Glenn.

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