This downer relationship picture is fatally hampered by its lack of sympathetic lead characters and its bizarre mid-winter tableau, in which we see Fall season high school football and marching band activities. Add to that little action except for two shocking tragedies, and you get one more example of a weak story that is too small for the silver screen.
The movie opens during a strangely snowbound high school marching band practice. Just as the band leader (Tom Noonan) is admonishing his charges to do better, two gunshots ring out, and then we’re sent back “a few weeks earlier.” This might be a foreshadowing, but it comes with scant suspense, since we are sure to guess at least one of the victims in fairly short order.
Slowly and painfully, we are introduced to single mother Annie (Kate Beckinsale), estranged from loser husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell), and Arthur, the kid she once babysat for. Of course, marital discord rears its ugly head again with Arthur’s parents getting separated. Add to the mix that Annie is sleeping around with her best friend’s husband—himself hardly a bargain, as he is pursuing several other women—and the plot looks like it was stolen from the daytime soap operas.
The only enjoyable part of the film is the budding relationship between Arthur and cute, nerdy Lila (Olivia Thirlby). Needless to say, it’s not a good sign when you want to see more of the minor characters and less—or even none—of the leads.
Excessive critical praise has been heaped on virtually every element of this film. Yet, the direction does nothing to speed up the proceedings, and even those who like the film admit that it is slow. The performances are adequate at best, with the kids stealing the show. Sam Rockwell is way over the top as Glenn, but can be excused somewhat since the character is simply awful. Kate Beckinsale doesn’t work as Annie, since this casting-against-type is a joke. Zero effort was made to hide her classic beauty, and thus she is not credible for a moment as a white trash lowlife.
A great unintentionally humorous line from one of the critics was that “Snow Angels is Kate Beckinsale’s Monster’s Ball (2001).” The point was that just like Halle Berry, glamor girl Kate could get down and dirty in a plain Jane role, and run through the full gamut of emotions. True, Berry got an Oscar for Monster’s, but many feel that it was not at all deserved, in that screaming and crying are not acting. As such, this was not a compliment, even if some would think it to be.
By the same token, Beckinsale “acts out” herself at the absurd conclusion of Snow Angels, in which Glenn comes to her house to kill her, and her emoting ranges from anger to completely illogical acceptance. Indeed, her willingness to get her brains blown out by Glenn is mind-numbingly stupid, as is the tragic death of her daughter.
The story is going nowhere until Annie falls asleep on the couch, whereupon the little girl breaks out of the house, falls into a pond, and it freezes over her. In a weak attempt to unite characters, her body is discovered by Arthur, after some delay. Never mind that in a real search, watery locations would be the first thing checked.
To add insult to injury, if there ever would be a time for overwrought emotions, it would be when a mother finds out about her child’s death. Inexplicably, Annie’s reaction is subdued.
Much is made of Glenn’s finding religion, to help him deal with his many failures. However, I defy the writer of the source material to produce a real-life individual who would ask for God’s guidance just before he goes to his ex-wife’s house to kill her.
In short, Snow Angels is nothing more than a portrayal of what urban sophisticates believe about small town America, and it comes up dead wrong on nearly everything. More than that, its unrelentingly negative, almost nihilistic tone tends to appeal to those same sophisticates. Those who like this movie are revealing quite a bit about themselves.