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The Snow Walker
2004 - PG-13 - 103 Mins.
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Producer: Rob Merilees
Written By: Charles Martin Smith
Starring: Barry Pepper, Annabella Piugattuk, James Cromwell, Kiersten Warren, John Gries
Review by: Greg Ursic
   
As a bush pilot in Canada’s Far North, being an arrogant lady’s man is part of Charlie Halliday’s job description. While on a routine fuel drop, he encounters an Inuit family who persuade him with a little ivory bribery to take their ailing daughter to Yellowknife. Their flight is cut short when the plane experiences engine trouble and ditches in a pond. Stranded, with few supplies, and with winter approaching, Charlie isn’t hopeful that he’ll get out alive, especially when saddled with a companion who he regards as a hindrance. But after a solo foray that ends in near disaster, the question becomes who is really the extra baggage.

Based on the Farley Mowat short story Walk Well My Brother, the film features Canadian boy made good Barry Pepper. For Charlie Smith (the director) the choice couldn’t have been better: Pepper an avid outdoorsman was up to the challenge of filming in the difficult and isolated conditions needed to capture the spirit of the film. In order to ensure believability in the flight scenes, Pepper learned how to fly the taciturn Noorduyn Norseman (something his wife was not thrilled with). Pepper perfectly capture’s Charlie’s evolution through the five stages of grief from hissy-fit-throwing-know-it-all to resolute somber acceptance, and runs the gamut from annoying to amusing and touching in the process.

Newcomer Annabella Piugattuk is captivating as Kanaalaq , Charlie’s teacher, spiritual guide and saviour. The role isn’t much of a stretch for Piugattuk who is called upon to be herself: she speaks Inuit, taught herself to hunt at14 and possesses the requisite skills to survive in the harsh climate. Pepper and Piugattuk’s relationship comes across as genuine, without which the film would fall flat. The other character worthy of note is Mother Nature.

Shot in and around Churchill, Manitoba and Rankin Inlet, the barren landscape consists of placid ponds, muskeg and barren tundra. Stripped of the trappings of civilization, the stark beauty that shines through the desolation hides the accompanying danger- as one of the searchers notes “That’s death down there”. The cast and crew experienced the hazards of shooting in such an environment first hand: the crew had to employ polar bear watchers to ensure that no one got dragged off, and the clouds of mosquitoes enjoyed a blood banquet (you see and hear them buzzing in virtually every scene – I was constantly scratching). Almost as irritating are the subplots.

Every time the story veers away from the principle characters and returns to civilization that story falls flat: the simmering conflicts that rage between the characters at the flight company are never explained, nor fully realized. It does nothing more than steal time that could be used to focus on the main story. Charlie’s flashbacks, which are supposed to provide us with a glimpse of his traumatizing past are laughably amateurish and provide no insight into his character

While the savage-as-teacher motif has been covered before (“Never Cry Wolf” and “Dances With Wolves” come to mind), the performances, accompanying score and gorgeous scenery are more than enough to sustain the viewer. If you’re in the mood for some entertaining Can-con – I was relieved that they opted for a powerful ending that was still muted - this may be the outing for you.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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