Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review - Cold Weather

Cold Weather is a detective story, but you'd be hard-pressed to guess that from the film's leisurely opening half hour. Aaron Katz's third feature gives us that time to spend with the film's characters, getting to know them a little, and it gives every impression of playing out like any other 'mumblecore' feature. This didn't immediately get me on the film's side, as I've struggled to get to grips with the mumblecores I've seen in recent years, even if the characters in introduces are to are a genial bunch. There's Doug (Cris Lankenau), a forensics degree dropout now back living with his older sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). He takes a job at an ice factory, where he becomes friends with part-time DJ Carlos (Raúl Castillo), with whom he shares his passion for Sherlock Holmes stories.

For a while, Katz seems content to hang out with his characters and enjoy their interactions. This part of the movie flirted with tedium occasionally for me, but Cold Weather just about gets away with it. The actors are all comfortable onscreen and their relaxed, easygoing vibe sets the mood for the whole movie. Then, just as we're getting accustomed to the movie we think Cold Weather is going to be, it suddenly develops a plot, when Doug's ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), whom Carlos has been courting, suddenly vanishes. Carlos, energised by the Conan Doyle stories he has been devouring since Doug first lent them to him, immediately suspects that there's a case to be solved, and he ropes Doug in to investigate.

The effect of that seemingly aimless opening portion of the film bears fruit at this point, as we suddenly realises how involved we have become with these characters. Doug, Carlos and Gail are a fun trio to follow as they start to follow the clues surrounding Rachel's disappearance, and the film makes a playful use of standard genre staples: snooping around motel rooms for clues, breaking codes, tracking a suspect, etc. Cold Weather is not exactly 'plot heavy' – Katz remains deliberately sketchy on the details of his McGuffin – but he finely judges the film's momentum and tone, puncturing the surprisingly tense atmosphere with moments of comic relief (such as Doug and Carlos' encounter with a bewildered motel manager).

Katz is from Portland, Oregon, which is where Cold Weather is set, and the director's familiarity with his city is another boon for the film. The location work is superb, with Katz making Portland a rich and fully realised environment for his film, and Andrew Reed's slick, confident camerawork manages to be distinctive without drawing attention to itself or interrupting the flow of the movie (a similar feat is accomplished by Keegan DeWitt's fine score). It's such a pleasure to spend time in the world of Cold Weather that it almost comes as a nasty shock when the film ends in such a sudden manner. As soon as the mystery has been resolved and the story has run its course, Katz cuts to the credits, and in truth, it is a little unsatisfying. Still, by that point Cold Weather has already established itself as a beguilingly off-kilter noir, with a style, charm and personality that's all its own.