Snow Falling on Cedars

After the international success of his feel-good fable Shine, Australian director Scott Hicks earned a Hollywood carte blanche for his next project, an adaptation of a best-selling novel by David Guterson. Predictably, the film is an ego trip; unpredictably, it's a glum, solemn one, loaded with facile social themes (the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was a bad idea), opaque characters (Ethan Hawke as a crusading small-town newspaperman, Youki Kudoh as the Japanese woman he loved and lost), pointlessly intricate flashbacks, and inflated technique. As ambitious as the film seems to be, the courtroom format—in 1954 a Japanese fisherman is put on trial in the Pacific northwest for the murder of a Caucasian colleague—couldn't be more ordinary, even with veteran scene-stealer Max von Sydow standing for the defense. With James Cromwell, Sam Shepard, and James Rebhorn. PG-13, 126 min.

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