By Owen Gleiberman
Updated March 30, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Some actors are classically good-looking: chiseled cheekbones, killer grins, the eyes of dark angels. Some have a more damaged, rough-cast, sexy-ugly allure. Part of what makes Guy Pearce so fascinating is that he’s the rare actor who is both at once. Undeniably handsome, he is also ravaged and bone-thin, with those laugh lines that crease his parchment cheeks like scars, those eyes that pop, with a bit too much ratty hunger, out of their sockets. It’s as if the dashing young Henry Fonda had been trapped in the face of David Carradine. In First Snow, Pearce plays another of his haunted nowhere men of fate, and once again, as he did in Memento, he embodies a twin state of mind: the coolheaded and proactive noir manipulator, who heads off to shape his destiny, and the terrified soul shrieking silently beneath. Stare long enough at Pearce’s face, and you start to see the death mask within.

Wearing stringy long hair and a Southwestern cowboy-hipster wardrobe, Pearce, in First Snow, looks so much like some sort of a suburban meth dealer that it takes a while to realize he’s playing a floor salesman. In fact, his character, Jimmy Starks, has a criminal past, and now, living with his girlfriend (Piper Perabo) just outside of Albuquerque, he’s got a dream — to sell vintage Wurlitzer jukeboxes, of which he has bought 10.

The dream gets derailed when he steps inside the trailer of a fortune-teller (played with sneaky credibility by J.K. Simmons) and learns that he has run out of luck. The first snow of the season, announces the psychic, will signal Jimmy’s demise. It’s a sign of the assured tapestry of foreboding created by Mark Fergus, directing his first feature, that we completely buy this prediction within the confines of a realistic thriller. The main threat to Jimmy would appear to be a former comrade who just got out of prison and is harassing him with phone calls. First Snow is essentially a short story with a metaphysical twist, but Pearce puts his fears more up front than any actor I can think of. He keeps you poked and prodded with anxiety.