Title: Angels Crest
Director: Gaby Dellal
Starring: Thomas Dekker, Lynn Collins, Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Piven, Kate Walsh, Elizabeth McGovern, Joseph Morgan
A description or listing of all the recombinant parts of drama “Angels Crest” runs the risk of making it sound more interesting than it actually is. An adaptation of a missing-child novel by Leslie Schwartz, director Gaby Dellal’s wintry indie is a not very subtle and generally unpersuasive stab at tapestral grief-as-elegy. If cinematic skill lies partially in making an audience feel things they’ve felt before, but in new and different ways, “Angels Crest” is a highlighted, underlined, out-of-date textbook, dogmatic about its presentation, no matter how overly familiar it is.
The story centers around young father Ethan Denton (Thomas Dekker), who takes his three-year-old son Nate out into a snowstorm, only to have him wander away from the safety of his truck while he’s out tracking a deer. A fevered search eventually ends with the discovery of his frozen body, and the small, foothills community of the title is forced to deal with their conflicting feelings in the fallout, which includes a criminal negligence case filed by a district attorney (Jeremy Piven) distraught over a past complicated by his own deceased child.
Ethan’s estranged, alcoholic ex, Cindy (Lynn Collins), goes into even more of a tailspin, while Ethan’s friend Rusty (Joseph Morgan) struggles with feelings of guilt over an affair with Cindy that prevented him from meeting Ethan on the fateful morning of Nate’s death. Ethan reconnects a bit with his mom (Elizabeth McGovern), but things are complicated by her lesbian lover Roxanne (Kate Walsh), who doesn’t much artfully hide her feelings regarding Ethan’s lack of responsibility and good judgment. Also hanging around and looking doleful is diner owner Angie (Mira Sorvino).
“Angels Crest” stumbles badly out of the gate, and never really recovers. It slogs through its first 25 minutes, pounding clamorously on all the obvious keys of tension and discord. Ethan and Cindy yell at one another. There’s a frantic search in which a small town suddenly mobilizes. Everyone acts intense. This is a drama!
Perhaps the source material is infinitely more nuanced and character driven, but the plot here in Catherine Treischmann’s adaptation feels like a “Law & Order” episode, more or less. And the movie itself seems like a boozy, downmarket hybrid of “The Shipping News” and “Gone Baby Gone,” with a pinch of “Northern Exposure.” The characters are stock, and two-dimensional, and the acting (particularly from Dekker, who engages in lots of demonstrative wounded seething) is always just slightly elevated to an off-putting degree, insistent on reminding viewers of the tension or conflict in any given scene, instead of trusting the material complications and intertwined pasts of its characters.
Cinematographer David Johnson shoots nice frames that make use of the movie’s snowy outdoor locations, but British-born director Dellal seems uncertain of how to intriguingly integrate or blend in the natural surroundings with the story. She — and, indeed, almost all of her actors, from whom she elicits rib-nudging performances — are so eager and desperate to make sure an audience understands all the Symbolic Parallelism and Important Metaphors on display that they lose focus on just telling honestly and well a smart, straightforward story. Sometimes the forest can’t be glimpsed through the trees.
Written by: Brent Simon