"Fate rules the affairs of mankind with no recognizable order." Seneca
Guy Pearce confirmed his cult status with his tortured Leonard of Memento. Writing notes to himself because of his serious short term memory loss, he pursues a putative killer of his wife. Now in First Snow Pearce as Jimmy Starks pursues another threat, his imminent death disclosed by a fortune teller. The theme of fate versus determinism-- Can anyone alter his destiny?-- is provocatively introduced but only partially developed beyond plot demands for someone avoiding death.
The expectations for a thematically heavy duty, time challenged thriller like Christopher Nolan's Memento are not always in Mike Fergus's First Snow, a semi-entertaining thriller slow in many parts and hardly challenging other than seeing Pearce put his indie-strange stamp on a mediocre knockoff of his most famous role. Here he displays his usual taut physical and mental persona but without any puzzling character depths other than selling old Wurlitzer juke boxes and flooring while touting shoulder-length hair and attitude incommensurate with the nowhere character he inhabits.
The New Mexico setting is just right for the new-age ambience of the occult and existentialism. This region has had its cult status confirmed with the many UFO sightings and the starkly haunting work of Georgia O'Keefe. Chris Martinez's minimalist score punctuates the spare emotional landscape.
Jimmy's palm reader, Vacaro (a wonderfully weary J.K. Simmons), says, "I saw no more roads, no more tomorrows. But you're safe until the first snow." The script doesn't allow Jimmy to go too far beyond disbelief at this prophecy into whether or not one can be happy knowing the future. Try he will to alter that future but without intellectual resolution for the audience.
More promising is the redemption motif in which he must face a recently- released-from-prison former business partner, who went up the river because of Jimmy's testimony and who may now wish to exact his due. How Jimmy faces this prophetic return is not well enough dissected, but it remains an energetic coda to an otherwise sporadically interesting study of personal responsibility and fate.