Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for profanity, violence and sexual situations
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Every step is an anticipation of the next in David Gordon Greene’s exacting examination of human frailty.
Snowy smalltown USA, where real people lead real lives edged with adultery, divorce, and restraining orders. Annie (Kate Beckinsale) is a frazzled working mom slinging hash at the neighborhood Chinese joint and less than capably caring for five year-old daughter Tara (Gracie Hudson).
Estranged husband Glenn (the perpetually amazing Sam Rockwell) is a recovering alcoholic and born-again Christian who appears to have regained control of his anger management problems.
Annie is having a clandestine fling with a friend’s husband and has murky family history with teenage co-worker Arthur (Michael Angarano). Arthur’s own parents are trial separating while he seeks solace with nerdy high-school newcomer Lila (Olivia Thirlby).
Glenn desperately tries to make peace with Annie while she struggles to deal with shifting sentiments and domestic frustrations. Even while Glenn is making good he’s spiraling into a guilt-induced freefall from which there may be no return.
As the master of moods Greene wastes no time establishing the demons lurking at the periphery of his protagonists’ dreams. He utilizes a barren, wintry landscape to emphasize bitter cold temperatures, emotions and psyches. Imagery is stark and effective as opposed to bleak for bleak’s sake. True to form it’s an unbearably long time before something finally happens yet there’s no doubt that the other shoe is going to drop with a resounding thud.
The piece centers on performance; all players working together to fulfill Greene’s narrative vision. Beckinsale and Angarano are superb but Rockwell deserves year-end awards for his totally tortured soul who yearns to do the right thing.
I’m not typically a Greene fan; his style (“George Washington”, “All the Real Girls”) so precociously indie it makes my teeth ache. But the potential was always there and he finally got it right.