Watch the first six minutes of "Angels Crest" closely, they are this wrenching movie's one brief stretch of happiness.
3-year-old Nate Denton wakes up with red marks on his cheeks, but not from any injury. They're just war paint to accompany the feathered headdress from his birthday celebration. The little boy has wet his pants, and wakes up his young father, Ethan, sleeping next to him.
Dad is not perturbed; he takes care of it quickly if not thoroughly and wants to get back to sleep. But Nate is already at one of the cracked windows, pointing excitedly at the overnight snowfall coating their small mountain town. Impulsively, Ethan decided to take the boy on an early morning drive to the beautiful woods.
These brief scenes display what other characters will spell out: Ethan is a loving but haphazard father, with sufficiently good character to gain custody over his alcoholic ex-wife, but still lacking a mature focus. What happens next blasts his world to smithereens, and sends shivers through his community.
As Ethan, perpetually bruised-looking Thomas Dekker, with his long lashes and fair skin, provides a convincing center for Gaby Dellal's film of Leslie Schwartz's novel. Dekker conveys all the hope and anguish, confusion and clarity, of a young man searching for answers to an unfolding tragedy.
Not that he's alone, as "Angels Crest" boast a strong supporting cast, including lovely Lynn Collins as Cindy, Ethan's hard-partying ex and Ethan's mom. She has not been part of his life, even missing that birthday party. But now she is distraught and enraged.
"If he's dead, I'll kill you," Cindy screams at Ethan when their child disappears.
"If he's dead, I'll save you the trouble," Ethan replies.
Ethan gets far more support from Elizabeth McGovern as Jane, a sweet waitress at the town's lone restaurant, the diner run by Angie (Mira Sorvino). Jane's partner, the brusque artist Roxy played by Kate Walsh, is far less impressed by Ethan's frantic efforts to find Nate. When Jane describes him as "devastated," Roxy replies, "He should feel devastated."
That fault line runs through the town, but for the most part appears only on faces, in who sits where and talks to whom. Because as Nate's story unfolds, "Angels Crest" looks under the surface of some of these characters. When Jane's son shows up with his pregnant girlfriend, he clearly wants little to do with Roxy. The artist has no problem labeling him homophobic, but also reveals that it was Jane who walked out on him and his father.