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Occasionally, a chilling, grave portrait of loss, sorrow and regret hits the spot. Angel’s Crest, based on the Leslie Schwartz novel of the same title, navigates through the hearts and minds of the residents of a small, snowy town after a young man’s moment of thoughtlessness leads to tragedy. With her sophomore effort Gaby Dellal (On A Clear Day) creates a visually picturesque and emotionally evocative film with strong performances from a select few that smooth over the existing cracks.
Ethan (Thomas Dekker) is a 21-year-old man raising his 3-year-old son Nathan (Ameko Eks Mass Carroll), a responsibility absolved from the boy’s alcoholic mother Cindy (Lynn Collins). Two things are obvious about the young father: A) he finds profound joy in raising his son and B) his youth is not an advantage where his fatherhood skills are concerned. One morning Ethan grants his son an opportunity to enjoy the valley snowfall and they drive into the woods together. Nathan falls asleep before they get there, and having spotted a deer, Ethan leaves his son inside the car, buckled into his car-seat, heat on high, doors locked.
He doesn’t find Nate in the car when he returns moments later. In fact, he is nowhere to be found until the next morning when his father discovers his frozen little body. As Ethan grieves, the Rocky Mountain town of Angel’s Crest feels the weight of Nate’s death, many of the locals dissecting who factors into the blame. On top of that a troubled District Attorney (Jeremy Piven) diligently sets out to prosecute Ethan for negligence.
A sparkling supporting cast that includes Mira Sorvino, as a concerned single-mother and owner of the town diner, Elizabeth McGovern as a deeply sympathetic mother figure to Ethan, and Kate Walsh, as her less sympathetic partner. There is bench has depth, but that kind of depth might call for a longer film. Similarly, the glimpses we get of Jeremy Piven’s character are interesting and inviting, but time restraints keep us at arms length.
But, it seems Dellal knew that Thomas Dekker would carry the arsenal in this film. Doubts that his shoulders were capable of carrying a role like this are muzzled almost immediately. At the premiere of Angel’s Crest Dekker told me that he spent two weeks living with the boy that plays his son before shooting began. “We really did form a very father-son bond that was beautiful, that I miss,” said Dekker. “I was supposed to be able to take him to Disneyland during the summer, but he didn’t make it out to L.A.”
The connection between the two is obvious, but it is Dekker’s ability to tap into so many of Ethan’s layers— his agony, his regret, his gentleness, his youth, his naivete— that really spurs our sadness and empathy. And, while Lynn Collins’ Cindy starts off as a caricature of white trash, as the film goes on and we see her interact with her mother and with Ethan, she is able to affect us in a similar way.
Some will call Angel’s Crest depressing. Others will label it a tearjerker, but its a good thing that its doesn’t shy away from expanse of despair and creating moments of palpable pain— Why would it? There’s a quality about this movie that conjures up raw emotion— emotion that make the film’s gaps and miscalls forgivable.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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