A fate-obsessive film that would nearly register as existential were it not so resolutely low-key, First Snow is the directorial debut of Mark Fergus, one of the quintet of screenwriters Oscar-nominated this year for Children of Men (another of the five, Hawk Ostby, co-wrote this one as well). Guy Pearce plays Jimmy Starks, the most professional, motormouthed salesman in his Southwestern U.S. turf. A classic big fish in a small pond, Jimmy simultaneously juggles his quotidian job in the fast-paced, wine-‘em-and-dine-‘em world of selling flooring with putting together his private big score (which, it turns out, is selling Wurlitzer jukeboxes to far-flung VFW posts in the desolate desert mountains—which, next to selling floors, must seem pretty glamorous).
Because you just can’t paint a desert scene without hanging some dirty laundry on the clothesline to flap in the hot, dusty breeze, Fergus begins his film with a fateful moment of prairie mysticism. Starks, with time to kill while mechanics work on his hot rod, drops in for a session with an Airstream trailer-dwelling fisherman-cum-psychic. Thinking he’s merely in the presence of another gifted bullshit artist like himself, Starks is dismayed when the shaman appears to experience a clairvoyant hemorrhage when asked to portend the end of his life. He’s not upset because he believes his days are numbered. He’s upset the psychic doesn’t honor his offer to pay double for a more detailed description of his certain doom. (The audience is given a crucial clue, though, as Fergus lays foley of a blaring semi horn over the psychic’s fit.)
Ever the businessman, Starks doesn’t take the eschatological admonition seriously until some of the psychic’s other predictions—one involving a basketball game, another involving an investor from Dallas, all involving business transactions—begin to materialize. Pearce, whose jaw muscles increasingly look like vaginal lips even as his choice of parts continue to serve penance for playing cinema’s all-time hottest drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, unravels marvelously, even as his character alternately believes and disbelieves in his mortal interruption at the worst possible moments. Around his wife and friends, he devolves into an edgy mess. But around the psychic, who he repeatedly returns to for clarifications, he continues to stand off and crack wise. I suppose uneven character development is as much a product and reflection of fate as the glare of a jackknifing semi’s headlights.