David Gordon Green made his name by channeling the poetic pastoralism of Terrence Malick. But if this adaptation of Stewart O’Nan’s novel is any indication, what this iconoclastic indie-film director really wants to do is become a utility player. (His two upcoming projects, a Judd Apatow–produced stoner comedy and a remake of Suspiria, only confirm the suspicion.) Considering the diminishing returns of 2004’s Undertow, the decision to tone down the transcendental nature fixation may be a wise choice. This tepid melodrama, however, shows that the filmmaker hasn’t found a way to use his considerable strengths to enliven stock material just yet.
As the film’s various strands of miserablism start to converge—yes, the gunshot that we hear near the beginning will indeed come back to haunt us—a few moments suggest a left-field sensibility at work. Most directors wouldn’t let Sam Rockwell, playing a born-again alcoholic with a mean streak, take his usual shuck-and-jive act to such dark places, or embed a Béla Tarr tribute in a bar scene. But Snow Angels never lets the story’s minor and major tragedies gain traction; and there’s no big picture present, just one downer vision of Americana bumping into