With his first three films -- George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow -- writer-director David Gordon Green swiftly established his aesthetic: His films explore small-town life in the modern world, set in communities large enough to feel lost in but small enough to feel confining; they're all shot with a flat-yet-artful look that finds art in the real; they each feature strong performances that manage to make an impression without ever feeling forced; their dialogue is natural and human yet engaged and energetic. Snow Angels, Green's fourth film, keeps within that range, telling the story of lives and loves lost and found in a small New England town at winter time, but it's also a departure; it's Green's first adaptation (of a novel by Stewart O'Nan), and with actors like Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale and Griffin Dunne, it features his biggest-name cast to date. It's still a film that's identifiably his, even as it has the potential to turn him from a lesser-known indie director into an A-level dramatist.
Glenn (Rockwell) and Annie (Beckinsale) Marchand are separated; Annie's trying to raise their daughter Tara, while Glenn's born again with Jesus and killing himself slowly with alcohol. Annie works at the local Chinese restaurant -- the sort of place where the staff have to wear pseudo-Asian tops -- alongside Arthur (Michael Angarano), a teen she used to babysit. Arthur's parents (Dunne and Jeanetta Arnette) are splitting up, even as Arthur's becoming friends and more with new transfer student Lila (Olivia Thirlby). Both Glenn and Annie are leaning on their parents -- Glenn's moved back in with his folks, pretty much, while Annie's relying on her mom as cheap childcare while juggling work and an affair with Nate, (Nicky Katt), a co-worker's husband. Things grind along for all the characters -- the blend of small victories and petty defeats that makes up life -- until, one day, one simple thing goes horribly, terribly wrong. And everyone, everything is changed.