1998, Movie, R, 114 mins


A desolate look at the poisonous legacy of violence, this adaptation of Russell Banks' novel (he also penned The Sweet Hereafter) is as icy and lacerating as its title suggests. Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is a hard-drinking, quick-fisted cop in a Vermont town so small and virtually crime-free that he works a second job plowing snow to fill the time and make ends meet. He's dating local waitress Margie Fogg (Sissy Spacek) and trying to patch up his relationship with Jill (Brigid Tierney), his daughter by a first marriage that flew apart under the pressure of his boozing and explosive temper. The key to Wade's seething anger lies in his embittered relationship with his snarling, junkyard dog of a father (James Coburn), next to whom the average bad dad is a candidate for beatification, but Wade isn't much for deep thinking: That's for his brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe), who wisely got out the first minute he could. Wade's burning need to prove himself drives him to investigate obsessively the death of a vacationing union bigwig in what appears to be a hunting accident: A passing remark during a late-night phone conversation with Rolfe makes Wade suspect a conspiracy involving corrupt entrepreneurs, a local land grab and maybe even organized crime. It's not long before even Oliver Stone would have to ask himself whether there truly is anything untoward going on, or whether battered Wade's mind is slowly slipping its greasy hinges. Surrounded by pitch-perfect performances, Coburn is the show-stealer: Gaunt and red-faced, he spews a near-constant stream of invective so corrosive it appears to have eaten away his gums and exposed his teeth clean up to the roots. Caustic and despairing, Shrader's film lacks the delicate beauty of Atom Agoyan's SWEET HEREAFTER, but has just as much bitter power. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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