From the January 29, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Because most of the acting is authentic and powerful (especially that of Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, and Jim True), the source (a Russell Banks novel) is more than respectable, and the subject — an all-around fuckup (Nolte) in a dying New England town becomes even more fucked-up — and winter setting are unrelentingly grim, one has to admire writer-director Paul Schrader for having the guts to make this picture. But I found it more punishing than edifying. A brave effort to stare down the specter of American failure, it gets off on the wrong foot by pretentiously turning the doomed hero into a Christ figure — a traffic cop with arms extended in crucifixion mode — before the story even gets started. Flashbacks come in two subjective styles — grainy and handheld to recount the meanness and violence of the hero’s awful father (James Coburn, a bit out of his depth), black-and-white to reconfigure the recent past. The hero’s brother (Willem Dafoe), daughter (Brigid Tierney), and ex-wife (Mary Beth Hurt) all have their say, but the narcissism of wounded macho gets in the last word, and it’s last year’s groceries. (JR)