Tribeca Review: A Drug Trafficking Romeo And Juliet Face The Tragedy Of 'Deep Powder'

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by Gabe Toro
April 21, 2013 10:48 AM
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It doesn’t get much more Romeo and Juliet than “Deep Powder,” a drug melodrama based on true events but otherwise inspired by a love driven by classic class conflict. The handsome, broke townie in this instance is “Evil Dead” star (deal with it) Shiloh Fernandez as Danny, a puppy dog-cute snow-lift operator. He’s got eyes for kewpie-doll rich girl Natasha (Haley Bennett), who informs her that she accidentally dropped her wallet on the lift, but that she had no pressing need for him to give it back. The shock is that the wallet has four hundred dollars that she presumably won’t miss, which is even more incredible considering this was the early '80s, and inflation translates that to roughly $6,056.55. Roughly. Check the math.

Natasha’s flirtation with Danny, which has a slight edge of mocking cruelty to it, is laughed off by her prep school friends who don’t even bother to remember his name. Theirs is a story of future successes, board rooms and big brothers and sisters looking out for each other. Danny, a bit older, has already tasted failure, losing a hockey scholarship before dropping out of school to help support his mother and two younger siblings. What’s left of Danny’s father is an amorphous stack of clothes, knick knacks, and good-looking ‘45’s, preserved as if encased in amber.

Danny hesitates to join this circle of haves even after Natasha’s prodding, knowing he would be an outsider of sorts. Of course, the formula is inverted here: you’d think Danny, who has tasted failure and humility, would be a bit more worldly than them. And while Natasha’s friends give off a slight William Zabka-quality, they also sponsor the Deep Powder Alpine Country Club, a secret society of the very wealthy who bankroll a trip to Ecuador to score the finest china white rich kids can buy. A lottery selects Natasha as the recipient of this year’s plane ticket, and grumbling and complaints ensue when she reaches outside of her circle to take Danny along with her.

The film is peppered with what usually comes across as an obnoxious framing device: the videotaped interviews and confessions from the other members of the Deep Powder Alpine Country Club, long after a coming and inevitable tragedy. The film goes the “Star 80” route in employing the actors to recreate these interviews, which helps eliminate the potential of awkward dissonance between a terrible true story and the sexy, possibly inaccurate one onscreen. As the interviews proceed, it becomes clear that the members of the club are protecting their own, demonizing Danny for his role as some sort of mastermind of the entire plan despite what we see is the opposite.

Fernandez and Bennett make a pretty and exciting couple, and both actors give very good performances. Their affections seem genuine; also immediate is the sentiment of class tension that divides them. Danny’s advice and consent nonetheless drips with a small layer of contempt, mostly because he has a conscience: he’s worried about the immorality of leaving his family over Christmas vacation to procure drugs overseas. Natasha, however, is only concerned with logistics, and when the deal initially goes south, Danny treats it as inevitable karmic retribution. Of course two American kids would screw up a massive international drug deal, and of course they would be punished for their selfishness and hubris.

The predictability of “Deep Powder” ’s real-life narrative depends greatly on just how much faith you have in humanity. As unofficial as it may be, the Deep Powder Alpine Country Club is an institution, housed under a prep school, an even more overwhelming organization. Like protects like, and we’ve read this in the newspapers all the time: the fall guy tends to be of a lower social strata than the ones who wash their hands of their own mistakes in plain view. The story is compelling, even if some of the details don’t ring true – John Magaro’s Buscemi-esque salt-of-the-earth best buddy feels like a movie contrivance – but the denouement doesn't feel like the collapse of an institution as much as good guys versus bad guys. Fernandez's Danny is simply too principled, and too good: his siblings are adorable, his hard-luck widowed mother is too caring. Without knowing the details of the true story, it very much seems a bit too David and Goliath. If you're too busy over-emphasizing that size-difference, the drama just gets lost. [B-]

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