Nine years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a small town in the Pacific Northwest still struggles with the troubling legacy of U.S. policies against Asian-Americans. In December 1950, just off the shores of San Piedro Island in Washington, a Japanese-American man named Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) stands accused of murder after his close friend Carl Heine (Eric Thal) is found drowned in icy waters. As the trial gets under way, with Alvin Hooks (James Rebhorn) prosecuting Kazuo and Nels Gudmundsson (Max Von Sydow) defending him, reporter Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) covers the proceedings for the local newspaper. It's difficult for Ishmael to view the trial objectively, as his first love was a Japanese-American girl named Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), who later married Kazuo. Now, Ishmael has discovered that, when the Japanese-American residents of San Piedro Island were sent to internment camps during World War II, Carl's mother used their incarceration to scuttle a land purchase by Kazuo's family. This could suggest a motive for murder, but Ishmael is reluctant to step forward with the story. Snow Falling on Cedars was based on the best-selling novel by David Guterson, adapted for the screen by Ron Bass and writer/director Scott Hicks.
~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide