What is it about Guy Pearce
that makes him so attractively insular, even when he's playing an obnoxious halfwit who sells bargain basement linoleum? Last year, he started strong with his brooding performance in John Hillcoat
's brutal The Proposition
and ended as the only graceful note as Andy Warhol in the otherwise abysmal Factory Girl
. Though it premiered at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, it's taken close to a year for someone to pick up First Snow, along with both Lonely Hearts and Comedy of Power, which also premiered at Tribeca last year. With the 2007 edition of the festival a paltry month away, a look at one of its more well-attended and well-received pieces is apt.
Pearce plays Jimmy Starks, a walking grease bucket of a salesman who is waiting for his car to get fixed when we first meet him (as if the name left any room for ethical clarity). Jimmy is trying to sell everyone: He attempts to sell a jukebox to a bar owner (he already has one), tries to sell his intellectual cynicism to a fortune teller (J.K. Simmons
, playing it surprisingly low key), and tries to sell his respect to his colleagues and coworkers (William Fichtner
and Rick Gonzalez
, respectively). When the fortune teller tells him that he will go tits-up when the first snow hits, Starks responds with impervious flaunting and jittery paranoia. Self-aware and gaunt with confusion and doubt, Starks begins to take action to ensure he won't die. Not an easy charge with a vexed ex-partner (Shea Whigham
), sneering and prodding through late night phone calls. Article continues below
And I'd thought the Memento aping had gone and simmered down for awhile. First-time director Mike Fergus
, who along with co-writer Hawk Ostby helped pen the script for Alfonso Cuaron
's brilliant Children of Men
, has some nifty moral questions, but not much more than your standard psychologically-leaning noir. The question of whether or not Starks' duck-and-dodge tactics to escape his certain fate are all part of the equation for his death are well and good, but they don't expound on the story's bylaws or give the character any deeper resonance. For whatever reason, Starks' change from slick-Rick salesman to nervy, self-analytical loner can be seen the minute the fortune teller reveals what he's seen.
That isn't to say that these look-over-your-shoulder theatrics don't at least cast a consistent enough tone to keep the viewer intrigued. The film leans heavily on Pearce's uncanny ability to shift his tone and look without disrupting the mood of the scene and, in a larger sense, the film. It's not that Fergus doesn't have a semblance of technical proficiency; it's that he doesn't use it to engage the audience in any particular way, allowing the wannabe fate loopholes to fill in what is left largely uncovered in the screenplay. Fergus is blessed with a cast who can duck-and-weave with his shabby material. He might not be so lucky next time.