First Snow Mark Fergus

First Snow Mark Fergus
I don’t know what it is about the desert — the heat, the isolation, the long stretches of lonely highway suited only to drivin’ or schemin’ — but modern directors rooting about in the film noir closet have a counter intuitively reliable inclination to set their movies there. Likewise Mark Fergus, who here follows in the dusty footprints of Red Rock West, After Dark My Sweet and Blood Simple by plunking debut effort First Snow down in the high plains of New Mexico. Emaciated Guy Pearce — that rare actor who can make a profitable living emoting with his bone structure — stars as Jimmy, a central-casting travelling salesman in a bad suit and a surgically attached cell phone, congenitally unable to stop his 24/7 perma-hustle except for the odd shot of bourbon or tug on a Camel. When a blown engine strands him in some nameless one-stoplight town, a jovially sceptical Jimmy, always keen to size upon someone else’s scam, pops in for a reading from a roadside fortune-teller (a wonderful J.K. Simmons doing Law & Order sober rather than J. Jonah Jameson splenetic). Though initially happy to dismiss the forecasts of imminent doom, Jimmy re-evaluates when one of the psychic’s predictions proves eerily accurate. Suddenly spooked, Jimmy sees mortality everywhere, particularly when a sketchy ex-colleague with a grudge (and dramatically fortuitous timing) gets sprung from the pen. Presented with a focus for his fears, Jimmy is certain that his old running mate will be the engine of his demise. Since the fortune-teller predicted dire doings "before the first snow,” First Snow takes on the time-limited urgency of Crank/D.O.A./No Way Out, as Jimmy thinks himself in a race to nail, or evade, his real and imagined adversaries, staying one step ahead of the metaphorical tax man. The movie spends its second half jumping back and forth between two tracks: a meditation on the knowability/mutability of destiny, and a more Earth-bound cat and mouse thriller. The latter is better served, though the ambiguous ending — neither the fortune-teller’s bona fides nor Jimmy’s ultimate fate are made clear — tends to exalt the former. As is so often the case, one is left with the sense that, as plot choices go, the open/unresolved ending is overused and overrated. Ambiguity may be true to life, yadda yadda, but so is acne, and we don’t necessarily want either in our entertainment. What is not ambiguous, however, are the DVD extras, of which there are, to a 100 percent objective certainty, none whatsoever. (Alliance Atlantis)