Volume 93, Issue x

Wednesday, March 18, 1999


Story brings Magnolia to full bloom

Snow Falling just to visually blurred

1999's most memorable quotes

Snow Falling just to visually blurred

Photo by David James
THOUGH HIS TONGUE WAS STUCK TO THE WINDOW'S METAL FRAME, ISHMAEL SENT HATSUE A TELEPATHIC MESSAGE TO BRING A WARM CUP OF WATER. Ethan Hawke tests the limits of the human heart, as well as schoolboy scientific fact, in Snow Falling On Cedars.

By Luke Rundle
Gazette Staff

Many Hollywood movies fall into the bitter trap of catering to breathtaking visual effects and lose sight of what should be their ultimate goal – to tell an engaging and climactic story.

Sadly, Snow Falling On Cedars, the cinematic adaption of David Guterson's acclaimed novel, falls prey to this snare. Aesthetically gorgeous to watch, the story is not the least bit interesting and dooms it to failure.

Set on a small Pacific Northwest island in 1950, Snow Falling is composed of two separate phases documenting the life of reporter Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), which are linked through numerous flashbacks. The main framework of the story centres around the trial of a Japanese fisherman named Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), who is accused of murdering a fellow Anglo-fisherman. Racial tensions arise over the trial, as the island's populace of Anglo-Americans are mistrustful of the Japanese following the Pearl Harbor bombing during the Second World War.

The second portion of the story centres around Ishmael's forbidden love affair with a young Japanese girl named Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), which occurred several years earlier. Hatsue ends their relationship when the United States decrees that all Japanese people are to face internment in military camps, crushing Ishmael in the process.

This brings the narrative back to the trial. While in the camps, Hatsue marries Miyamoto and now fears desperately for her husband's freedom in their racially biased society. The ever-diligent newshound, Ishmael does a little investigating of his own and uncovers evidence which may serve to exonerate Miyamoto from the charges.

It is at this point that Snow Falling becomes unbearably laborious in its plot development. Rather than destroying the evidence or bringing his discovered facts to light in order to free Miyamoto, Ishmael simply sits and broods.

Hawke is certainly no stranger to brooding – it is a skill he has managed to parlay into a surprisingly lucrative film career. However, it's difficult to feel any sense of urgency while watching Hawke waste his courtroom scenes by endlessly shuffling his evidence papers in and out of his notebook.

In his follow-up effort to 1997's wildly successful Shine, director Scott Hicks shows little of his previous skills. The constant emphasis on the most insignificant details, combined with the relentless use of flashbacks which leave the audience in a visual tizzy, make Snow Falling's overall effect much like a nuclear explosion – aesthetically pleasing, but with deadly consequences.

With so much effort concentrated on the movie's visuals, Snow Falling's acting performances take a back seat. Frequent camera cuts around the sets and landscapes take time away from prolonged close-ups of the actors, prompting them to show their required emotion and deliver their lines with machine-gun efficiency before the camera darts away again.

A few memorable performances do shine through, however. Max Von Sydow delivers a top-notch performance as the aging defence attorney, whose closing arguments are perhaps the only true demonstration of acting skill in the entire production. As well, James Rebhorn's racist prosecutor and Sam Shepard as Ishmael's father give the film a much needed acting punch.

All in all, Snow Falling On Cedars does not serve to teach, inspire, or entertain. It does, however, provoke a question in the minds of audiences – if this film gets hopelessly buried somewhere in the forest, will anyone care?

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Copyright The Gazette 2000