First Snow

If First Snow is too reminiscent of Memento, that may have to do mostly with the two films' shared star, Guy Pearce, but also to do with a similarly claustrophobic tone, a similarly deluded, pathetic lead character, and a similarly disappointing reach for profundity, ultimately sacrificing theme for story twists. If Memento is the better movie, it's only because of its athletic, daring reverse-chronological structure. First Snow plays around with nonlinear narrative as well, but only for effect.

The story follows a sleazy salesman (Pearce) from Albuquerque who, while waiting for his car to get fixed, pays a visit to a local fortune teller and finds the old man's prophecies starting to come true - which worries him especially when he's told that he will die with the coming of the first snow.

Like Memento, this film is a psychological drama disguised as a thriller; for while Pearce, on the surface, starts fearing that his possible demise has something to do with the release from jail of a former friend that he had long ago set up in a shifty business deal that had gone wrong, it really has more to do with the guilt he feels over everything that had transpired.

First Snow is not a bad little movie. The acting is fine, the cinematography is crisp, Cliff Martinez's score is eccentric and rich, and it's especially nice to see a rarely-filmed city like humble Albuquerque take center stage: First Snow was shot entirely around Albuquerque and its environs. The unusual setting gives the film a lot of regional flavor - especially one scene set at the Dog House hot dog stand, with its giant neon dachsund gobbling up an endless chain of neon wieners (possibly my favorite memory from my own trip to ABQ a couple of years ago) - that is missing from most American films today. (However, it should be noted that Albuquerque seems to be the new filming hot spot: no less than ten big-budget features were shot there in 2006 and 2007.)

The problem with First Snow is that it finally doesn't have much to say. It dabbles with the age-old argument of free will versus fate, but never commits to exploring the depths of the argument. What we're left with is ninety minutes of Pearce being paranoid, and a twist ending so quiet that you almost miss it. Still, a fair film, not unmissable but not a waste of time.