Yesterday was Easter, the sun was shining, families were dressed up and out having fun together, and everything was downright pleasant…but not for this writer.  I spent that morning watching a film about the death of a child, and the ripple of the tragedy through a small, Montana town.  I guess I’m just a masochist.  Or an atheist.  That’s the same thing, right?  Anyway, check out the review for this indie ensemble drama after the jump…

Gabby Dellal’s Angel’s Crest is a film that is heavy with emotion from start to finish.  Adapted from Leslie Schwartz’ novel of the same name, it is the story of the accidental death of 3 year-old Nate Denton, and the effect of the loss on the tightly knit Montana community.  When Nate’s father, Ethan (Thomas Dekker), takes him to the woods to play in the snow, he takes his eyes off him for a few minutes to follow a pair of deer.  When he returns to his truck, Nate is gone.  In spite of the efforts of a search team, they do not find him in time, and little Nate dies of exposure.  Among those thrown into turmoil from the loss are Ethan’s alcoholic ex-wife Cindy (Lynn Collins), his best friend Rusty (Joseph Morgan), Jane and Roxy (Elizabeth McGovern and Kate Walsh), a lesbian couple close with the Dentons, Angela (Mira Sorvino) the owner of a local diner, and Jack (Jeremy Piven), a local prosecutor who must pursue a criminal negligence charge against Ethan.  As the investigation goes on, citizens of the town become increasingly divided as they decide where to lay blame.

The biggest strength of Angel’s Crest is its cast.  The tragedy at hand occurs in the film’s first reel, so from the very beginning, all the actors have to dig deep and bring big, relentless emotions to their characters, as well as establish a strong sense of community to begin with before it starts to get torn apart.  Jeremy Piven gives a particularly strong performance in his supporting role, because he is more subdued and understated than he usually is in other roles.  For the first time in a long time, it doesn’t feel as if Piven is giving us an outrageous caricature, but really inhabiting a role of some one who is deeply involved in such an alienating and sensitive endeavor.

But Mr. Piven’s is not the only standout performance.  Thomas Dekker and Lynn Collins, whose conflicts are the most prevalent in the film, are given the most intense and wrenching scenes, but deliver them without chewing up the scenery.  Dekker’s utter devastation at the loss of his son makes any additional insults or even suspicion sent in his direction that much more hurtful.  Collins’ abject submission to her alcoholism makes her both pitiable and loathsome at the same time.  Sorvino, McGovern, and Walsh round out the cast having created unique individuals highly pertinent to the story, but without drawing too much of the audience’s affections away from the principal characters.

Angel’s Crest is well crafted beyond its performances, although it relies heavily on its locations. Grand, sweeping shots of the rocky mountains convey the isolation and stoic sadness that these characters experience in the aftermath of the tragedy. During the search for Nate, the editing becomes highly stylized, using whip pans through blizzards and jump cuts to wild animals to create fear and uncertainty. This all serves to establish a specific tone and set emotion as the story begins, but becomes less prevalent as the movie goes on and relies more on the performances to advance the story.

While this is a richly atmospheric film, and seems to share similar aesthetic sensibilities with last year’s Winter’s Bone, it seems to lack the almost exotic look into another side of America (although frankly, that wouldn’t service this story). It may, however, end up costing Angel’s Crest academy attention that the former received, since they aren’t tackling say, the issue of poverty.  This is not a movie with any grand implications on society or any particular culture, but it is a well delivered exploration of sadness invading the lives of a whole community.

Overall: 7/10