‘Snow Angels’ an Essential Examination of Yin, Yang in Our Vulnerable Lives

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4/5CHICAGO – Staying sane is truly an edge-of-the-knife proposition. We are all the sum of our past environments, our present circumstances and our future worries. The sludge that is generated by such a mixture becomes the psyche that’s ready to interact with other psyches we deem important or are forced to be around through family or commerce.

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale in Snow Angels
Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale in “Snow Angels”.
Photo credit: IMDb

Director David Gordon Green inspects the tipping point of this interaction in the unsparing new film “Snow Angels”.

Arthur (Michael Angarano) is the teenager who walks through all the lives of this multi-storied road. His old babysitter, Annie (Kate Beckinsale), is amid a separation from her husband, Glenn (Sam Rockwell), who has attempted suicide because of the relationship’s fallout.

Annie is also having an affair with her co-worker’s husband (Nicky Katt).

Meanwhile, Arthur’s dad (Griffin Dunne) decides he needs some space. The conflict of the potential break up with Arthur’s mother challenges the dynamics within the family. When Arthur meets Lila (Olivia Thirlby), though, the togetherness they develop helps to get him through difficult times.

When Annie and Glenn’s daughter suddenly disappears, the whole community – including Arthur and his parents – are about to experience a reaction to the subsequent turn of events in divergent and tragic ways.

Michael Angarano in Snow Angels
Michael Angarano in “Snow Angels”.
Photo credit: IMDb

At first, I thought Beckinsale’s casting in this film was a mistake. She was too ultra glamorous amid such lower middle-class surroundings. She understood the wounds of her character, though, in trying to accommodate her slipping down husband and exposed herself in ways a lesser actor wouldn’t have explored.

Her scenes in the climax of the film had a resignation that was vitally real.

Sam Rockwell – an underrated actor who never seems to get the recognition he deserves – is astounding as Glenn.

Relying on the various tics of the person on the edge of a nervous breakdown, he filters born-again Christianity, substance abuse and narcissism through his brutal characterization. Though I didn’t know where he was going, I wished he wouldn’t get there.

Kate Beckinsale in Snow Angels
Kate Beckinsale in “Snow Angels”.
Photo credit: IMDb

There’s a desperation of people trapped within their situation because the community seems to be as dead as some of its souls.

Even in the upper middle-class enclave of Arthur and his family, there’s a projected phoniness of “doing the right thing” especially as his mother exposes her husband’s selfishness after he leaves.

In contrast with the lower-class problems that are brewing, it emphasizes the commonality in all humans when faced with mortality.

There are bright spots. Olivia Thirlby (Ellen Page’s best friend in 2007’s acclaimed “Juno”) channels an Anne Hathaway-like brightness in her eccentric, photograph-taking teen goddess. Arthur – for all his dread – is most likely to survive intact because he’s a seeker. It’s no wonder the rest of the characters seem to gravitate to him.

This is an essential examination of dreams deferred through a darkness that lies dormant in the yin and yang of our vulnerable lives. While it’s a difficult film to absorb, it’s always absorbing. We are all terminal cases.

“Snow Angels” opened in Chicago on March 21, 2008 and limited U.S. theaters on March 7, 2008.

Click here for our full “Snow Angels” image gallery!

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2008 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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