In the '90s, any character who began a film angrily barking orders into a cell would likely end it having learned valuable life lessons. Nowadays, nearly everybody has one, so films that make a clear connection between cell phones and moral vacancy risk offending much of their audience. So in the leaden new drama First Snow, the filmmakers hedge their bets, conveying the sleaziness of morally bankrupt salesman Guy Pearce by having him try to close deals on his cell while calling people "sweetheart" and having girlfriend Piper Perabo complain that he's constantly on the line.
World-class brooder Pearce is cast against type as a glib salesman whose big talk and big dreams never resulted in big money. On a lark, Pearce visits trailer-park psychic J.K. Simmons, who has an eerie premonition that Pearce will die before the first snow falls. This sends Pearce into a paranoid funk as he begins speculating about how he'll die. Will he be killed by a disgruntled protégé, or the ex-con business partner he left rotting in a jail cell? Or will a mysterious heart ailment do him in? Given the film's shallow, portentous script and convoluted plot, however, the question quickly morphs from "Who will do it?" to "Who cares?"
First Snow echoes Pearce's signature film Memento just closely enough to suffer by comparison. Memento cast Pearce as a man haunted by a past he can't decipher. In First Snow, he's haunted by an equally inscrutable future. The film is about a superficial man facing a profound day of reckoning, but Pearce's last-act bid for redemption feels facile and arbitrary. Unlike all good films about salesmen, First Snow derives no joy from the art of the hustle: Pearce is usually dependable, but here, he's utterly unconvincing as a slick phony, and the film peddles a bogus bill of goods in kind.