- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

As the new film “First Snow” begins, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into a repertory showing of “Memento.”

It opens with the voice of actor Guy Pearce giving something of a philosophical monologue over a striking visual image — much like the 2000 film.

In fact, “First Snow” contains a lot of familiar elements: the startlingly accurate fortuneteller, the old friend out for revenge, the question of what to do when you know your days are numbered.

Yet first-time filmmaker Mark Fergus manages to take these standbys — and more than a touch of classic noir — and turn them into something that feels new. Mr. Fergus, one of the writers of last year’s acclaimed “Children of Men,” proves here that he has more than just an ear for dialogue. His visual sense is just as attuned to the extraordinary in the everyday.

Mr. Pearce plays Jimmy, a New Mexico flooring salesman who hopes to move up in the world by becoming a jukebox salesman. The cocky guy has been driving recklessly, though, so he’s stranded in the desert while his car is being repaired. After spending time at the only watering hole around, he enters a fortuneteller’s trailer on a lark.

“No crystal ball?” Jimmy wonders.

“It’s in the shop,” responds Vacaro (J.K. Simmons, “The Closer”).

As he looks into Jimmy’s future, Vacaro seems to have a seizure. The skeptical Jimmy — he thinks the seer is a salesman just like himself — doesn’t think much of it until Vacaro’s predictions start coming true. He returns to find out what else Vacaro saw, a revelation that leads him back into his dark past.

Mr. Pearce, whose gaunt look gets more intriguing as he gets older, proves again that he’s a perfect noir protagonist. He starts the film brash and loses assurance as he feels his time running out.

Mr. Fergus has assembled a good supporting cast, too. William Fichtner (“Prison Break”) is quirky but reliable as Jimmy’s best friend, Ed, and Piper Perabo (“Coyote Ugly”) plays it down as Jimmy’s charming, patient girlfriend, Deirdre. Mr. Simmons has fun with what might have been a cliche. His fortuneteller disappears when Jimmy goes looking for him, as fortunetellers often do in the movies, but Jimmy finds him — fishing.

It’s just one example of how Mr. Fergus and his frequent writing partner Hawk Ostby (also a writer of “Children of Men”) play with our expectations. “First Snow” has loads of suspense, great dialogue, controlled performances and an unusually interesting background. (Look for the hilarious signs in and around that desert bar.)

Mr. Fergus may have been just one of five writers on “Children of Men.” With his directing debut, he has immediately set himself apart from the pack.

***

TITLE: “First Snow”

RATING: R (Language, some violence and sexuality)

CREDITS: Directed by Mark Fergus. Written by Mr. Fergus and Hawk Ostby.

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

WEB SITE: www.firstsnowthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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