Eye For Film >> Movies >> Snow Falling On Cedars (1999) Film Review
Snow Falling On Cedars
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
In a small community, murder becomes personal. Even the sheriff (Richard Jenkins) feels uncomfortable wearing his official hat.
Investigations into the death of a fisherman uncover more than why Carl Heine Jr (Eric Thal) drowned in his own nets on a foggy night in the channel. San Piedro Island, on the Pacific North West coast, has a history of suspicion against the incomer, especially Asian.
It was illegal for anyone born in Japan to own land, for example, and land is at the heart of this case. According to prosecuting council, Alvin Hooks (James Rebhorn), it represents a clear motive for the killing.
Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) was the last man to see Carl alive that night, but kept it from the police because he understood enough about the xenophobic nature of things to realise that immediate suspicion would fall upon him, due to his family's claim on a proportion of the Heine farm.
Scott Hicks, the Australian director of Shine, has created a unique sense of time and place. Many of the qualities of post-war American life - before teenagers were invented, before drugs and guns blew away innocence - are encapsulated in the quiet dignity of this snowbound, seabound environment.
Based on David Guterson's international bestseller, the film tells of Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), chief reporter for the local paper - once edited by his revered father (Sam Shepard) - whose interest in the case is affected by his feelings for Kazuo's wife (Youki Kudoh). Before the attack on Pearl Harbour, after which her family was forced out of their home and incarcerated in an internment camp, she was his first and only love.
Kazuo's trial for murder lies at the centre of the drama, with Judge Fielding (James Cromwell) presiding and the comfortably idiosyncratic Nels Gudmundsson (Max von Sydow) for the defense. "Try and act your age," the judge repremands him at one point. "If I did that," he replies, "I would be dead."
Hicks's use of flashbacks is ingenious. He slides them through with kaleidoscopic skill, so that a moment's memory touches the consciousness, without bruising it, leaving a clear and clean impression.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with von Sydow especially memorable. Although Hawke has the role of narrator, Ishmael's character is more observant than proactive. "Facts you can cling to," he says. "Emotions just float away." It is in the floating where the soul of Cedars lies.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001