Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
What happens when a headstrong rumrunner crash-lands in the Arctic Barrens?
In 2003’s The Snow Walker, this question has to be answered in the context of post-World War II technology, not with the luxury of GPS beacons and satellite phones. So when Charlie Halliday drops the last spare radio tube in his crashed single-prop, and it breaks, the answer is… a whole lot of survival training.
Fortunately for Charlie, part of his cargo includes an Inuit girl suffering from tuberculosis. So while Charlie goes postal over the frustration of a carefree bush-pilot life gone dangerously awry, Kanaalaq goes quietly about her business catching fish, snaring small mammals, curing furs, and gathering firewood.
After Charlie’s “you stay here while I walk 200 miles to get help” heroics go predictably sour, the pair settle down to a late summer of domesticity (of a sort) preparing for the eventual long winter walk back to civilization.
The story is quite simple. (Remember when movies felt more like short stories rather than bloated Peter Jackson / Michael Bay / J. J. Abrams collaborations?) Director Charles Martin Smith quietly captures the desolate beauty of the Barrens as well as the delicate transformation of souls on the brink of life and death. The camera swoops nowhere, and there are no explosions or CGI-inspired chase scenes. A sequence in which Charlie and Kanaalaq corner some caribou features real animals. Imagine that.
About the only missteps in the movie involve the rather contrived conflicts amongst a cadre of fellow bush pilots, helmed by veteran actor James Cromwell (see inset), which attempts a rescue for their lost buddy. But given the strength of the film’s story, setting, pacing, and performances from Barry Pepper and first-time actor Annabella Piugattuk, that story shortcoming is barely noticeable. In some ways, it even makes the film more accessible no a non-Yukon audience. The critical consensus at Rotten Tomatoes for this award-winning Canadian film is a pretty amazing 86% fresh.
Charles Martin Smith, of course, was well-equipped to make this film, having worked with such great directors as George Lucas in American Graffiti, Brian DePalma in The Untouchables, and Carroll Ballard in Never Cry Wolf (among many other films).
In Wolf, in fact, Smith played a character autobiographically inspired by author Farley Mowat–and from the friendship spawned between Smith and Mowat came Mowat’s offer for Smith to adapt the work of his choice. Smith chose a Mowat short story about a downed bush pilot, and The Snow Walker was born.
Smith is a gifted filmmaker. Take a chance on this small gem of a film tonight.