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Snow Falling on Cedars

Director Scott Hicks' career appears to be on quite a roll: Snow Falling on Cedars, the long-awaited follow-up to his critically acclaimed Shine, is one of the best dramas in recent memory, eclipsing even the considerable merits of his earlier offering. Based on the haunting novel by David Guterson, Snow Falling tells the story of Ishmael Chambers (a richly textured performance by Ethan Hawke), a young newspaperman who falls in love with the daughter of Japanese immigrants shortly before the outbreak of World War II, a time in which the conservative townsfolk of San Piedro are less than accepting of an interracial relationship with "the enemy." While the surface of the film deals with this forbidden romance and the consequences it has on the town, Snow Falling on Cedars is too finely layered to be categorized so easily: the plot is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, culminating in a murder investigation when, years later, the husband of Ishmael's beloved finds himself accused of manslaughter. The trial is presided over by a laconic judge (played by James Cromwell, who has been very busy lately: see the Babe films, L.A. Confidential, Star Trek: First Contact, and about a zillion other recent offerings), and it's up to Max Von Sydow, the cantankerous defense attorney, to prove his client's innocence. Amazingly, all the plot tangents are completely unified in service of the film, resulting in a surprisingly cohesive work of art with the power to alternately exalt the viewer and cause him to weep bitter tears at the injustice which still plagues our world. Snow Falling on Cedars is presented in a stunningly crisp anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer, which allows the lush cinematography to work its magic. As usual, Universal has outfitted the DVD with a generous amount of special features, including a "making-of" featurette, a gallery of deleted scenes, the film's theatrical trailer, and a terrific audio commentary track from director Hicks. This is a superb film and a "must-own" disc for any drama fan. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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