Review: 'Snow In Paradise' demolishes the myth of the glamorous UK gangster lifestyle
CANNES -- Andrew Hulme is not a name that many film fans know, but you've more than likely seen his work. As an editor, he's worked on "The American," "Red Riding: 1974," 'Control," "Gangster No. 1," and "Lucky Number Slevin," among others, and he's also served as a second unit director on a few films.
His directorial debut, "Snow In Paradise," made its appearance at Cannes today in the same timeslot that Ryan Gosling's "Lost River" played yesterday. It bummed me out to see that there were maybe a third as many people waiting to get into this one, and that was before I saw the movie. Afterwards, I'm doubly sorry, because it's a self-assured and sincere piece of work.
Based loosely on the true life story of Martin Askew, this movie feels like a direct refutation of the romanticized myth of London's criminal underworld. How many films have you seen now that make it look awesome to be a gangster in London? Even the ones that try to give the bad guys their comeuppance often end up glamorizing things for most of the running time. And I get it… it's a seductive setting for a director, and actors love to play tough. I know why there are so many films like that, but even so, it's really bracing to see one of those stories where the emphasis is on the painful unexpected growth of a moral compass, and how small and shitty that lifestyle truly is.
Dave (Frederick Schmidt) is a young guy living in London who dreams of getting his bump up from his Uncle Jimmy, who is played by the actual Martin Askew. When I learned that after the film, I was shocked. I thought he must have been an experienced actor based on how strong and precise his performance is in the film. One afternoon, Jimmy calls Dave and tells him to go make a pick-up of a bag after dropping another bag off. Dave hides his nervousness, and he convinces his best friend Tariq (Aymen Hamdouchi) to go with him. There's some tension at the meeting, but eventually, Dave and Tariq finish the task, returning the new bag, which is filled with money, to Jimmy's office.
While deciding to get involved in a life of crime is a terrible decision, Dave compounds things by stealing one kilo of cocaine from the bag he's dropping off, as if he actually thinks no one will notice. Dave's not much for long-term thinking, and it doesn't help that his plan to make money by selling the kilo off starts to flounder as be begins to sample more and more of it for himself. Tariq, who was deeply freaked out by the way Dave dragged him into the middle of a drug deal, tries to back off from his friendship with Dave.
When Jimmy finds out what Dave did, there are consequences, and we follow Dave right down that rabbit hole. There aren't many people Dave can turn to for help. He tries to reach out to an old friend of his father's, Micky (David Spinx), and when that just threatens to cause more of a problem, Dave finds himself stuck and looking for answers.
How he finds those answers is what distinguishes "Snow In Paradise" from being just another British gangster movie. Frederick Schmidt is onscreen for pretty much every scene of the film, and it's a raw, real performance. He has to navigate some pretty tricky scenes, and it feels like in every single one, he always makes the honest choice. I think he's a magnetic young presence, and if nothing else, I hope this film puts him on people's radar.
Instead of trying to build to some big giant explosive violent catharsis, Hulme keeps the focus on the yearning and the anger and the sorrow that are all bouncing around inside of Dave like shrapnel, and when Dave finally does make the big choice in the film, it's motivated. It feels organic and part of a larger continuum. And the film eventually builds to a last shot that I found very moving. I think in some ways, the crime story is almost secondary, and the film is more interested in how someone like Dave could find the solace he finds here, and there is a brutally painful lesson about peace embedded into the choices Dave makes.
Aesthetically speaking, the film is top-notch. Well shot by Mark Wolf. Meticulously designed by Alexandra Walker and Sophia Chowdhury. Cut with a keen, careful sense of rhythm and pace. It all adds up. This is a wonderful debut for Hulme as both writer and director, and I suspect this will one day be looked back at fondly as the place where he shifted gears and started making great movies of his own instead of just working on other people's.