First Snow

2007, Movie, R, 101 mins

Review

FIRST SNOW
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Screenwriter turned director Mark Fergus' variation on the classic parable of the appointment in Samarra stars Guy Pearce as a smooth operator with a dirty conscience trying to flee his destiny and instead running headlong into it. New Mexico-based traveling salesman Jimmy Starks (Pearce) pays the bills by selling flooring, but dreams of setting up his own business: supplying refurbished Wurlitzer jukeboxes to bars and restaurants. He's got the inventory but lacks start-up cash. During an out-of-town sales run, car trouble strands him roadside in the middle of nowhere and with nothing better to do — his attempt to sell the local barkeep on a jukebox goes nowhere — Jimmy decides to have his fortune told by craggy soothsayer Vacarro (J.K. Simmons), who operates out of an old silver camper. Not that Jimmy believes in psychics. He just appreciates a good hustle — you never know what you might learn. But the reading doesn't go as Jimmy imagined: Vacarro lobs a couple of soft predictions Jimmy's way, seeing roads — lots and lots of roads — calling the unlikely winner of an upcoming basketball game and seeing money somehow coming Jimmy's way via Dallas, but then he recoils. Jimmy presses for the rest of the reading, figuring he's watching a well-oiled pitch for more money. Vacarro is adamant, finally returning Jimmy's cash and telling him his future is all used up. Jimmy should make it through to the first snow, but after that the roads just stop. Only after the first two predictions come true does Jimmy start to worry, and as soon as he loses his cocky bravado the bad karma comes calling. Jimmy has plenty of it, stretching way back to when he weaseled out of a shady situation that sent his partner Vincent (Shea Whigham) away for a long prison term — one he's just finished serving — and coming up to a few days earlier, when coworker Andy (Rick Gonzales) was fired for fiddling his expense sheets the Jimmy way. Jimmy grows increasingly paranoid and distant, alienating his long-suffering girlfriend (Piper Perabo) and longtime best friend (William Fichtner). He tries to avert doom by squaring things with Andy and Vincent, but he's too stuck in his grifting mindset to understand that righting real wrongs requires more than a glib apology or a hollow gesture. Fergus' thriller benefits from Pearce's high-strung performance and the stark New Mexico landscapes, but the story is familiar and the pacing much too measured for a slight tale of ineluctable fate. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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