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Cold Weather
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by Jay Seaver

"The lady vanishes, the slacker detects."
4 stars

"Cold Weather" looks like a detective story, but to an extent that's just camouflage. Though it's got more of a definite plot than many of the movies that rightly or wrongly are placed under the "mumblecore" umbrella, the mystery winds up serving as structure for another look at twentysomethings lacking direction. A good one, but if you go in looking for Sherlock Holmes, you may be disappointed.

Doug (Cris Lankenau) majored in criminology and forensic science in college, but never finished. Now he's back home in Portland, Oregon, moving in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). He finds a job at an ice factory, where he meets Carlos (Raul Castillo), who also does gigs as a DJ and hits it off with Doug's visiting ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon). So when Rachel doesn't make it to one of Carlos's gigs, he gets worried and calls on Doug to figure out what's going on. Which appears to be nothing - at least, not until Doug spots someone watching them as they search Rachel's room.

Looking at the plot in retrospect, it really doesn't make a lot of sense - not in terms of being unfair (like how the Sherlock Holmes stories referenced tend to rely on information not given to the reader), but for how none of the actions of the criminal element seem to come together in a way that seems logical on their own - they all seem like set-up for Doug and company to jump through specific detective-story hoops. It's fun to watch them try and go through those hoops; the whole group is amateurs sort of imitating what they've seen in movies or read in books, having to improvise. Fortunately, it doesn't become a spoof, and even dropping references is kept to a minimum.

Sometimes writer/director Aaron Katz loses the sense of urgency with the detective story - characters will appear and disappear less based on logic than on who he wants in the next conversation. The good news is that most of these conversations are interesting to watch and listen to, from the slightly loaded questions at dinner with the siblings' mother and stepfather to Carlos admitting that Sherlock Holmes is, indeed, pretty damn awesome, to Doug asking Gail about her friends toward the end. Most scenes between Doug and Gail are especially good - we get little hints that they have not been particularly close the last few years, and while the search for Rachel is the background, it's background to the two of them reconnecting.

Both Lankenau and Dunn give nicely understated performances to get that across. Lankenau, who also co-starred in Katz's Quiet City, takes into account the audience's potential impatience with a talented person who has walked away from his gifts without apparent explanation, owning that Doug is a bit of a self-centered jerk for that but not rubbing the audience's face in it. His take on the Holmes-like character is a more subtle homage, showing us confusion in social situations and implacable determination once he's on the case without shouting it to the rooftops. Dunn's Gail, meanwhile, is a nice balance to him, responsible and just a little closed-off in most cases, but opening up around Doug because he's her brother and that bond never changes. Castillo and Rikoon are good too, with Castillo making Carlos a lot of fun by embracing the occasionally dorky streak that Katz put into his character.

While Katz left elements of the plot somewhat sketchy, his execution of what there is is quite good. He takes the thriller tropes - a mysterious rendezvous, tailing a suspect, investigating the scene of the suspected crime - and stages them in a way that manages to give the audience a chuckle while also playing them straight. There's tension, but not so much urgency as to push the Doug/Gail story that's really important off to the side. He and cinematographer Andrew Reed do a nice job of shooting the movie, not trying to make digital photography look like film or Portland look more or less noir-ish than it is. They get nice-looking shots without seeming to push a mood.

Of course, even once one has accepted that this movie is really about Doug and Gail as opposed to the case, it still seems like sort of an odd tease to end the movie where and when Katz does. No, there's nothing important left that needs doing, but if you're going to disguise your movie as a mystery, you might as well go all the way to the end with that disguise.

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originally posted: 04/03/11 14:58:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/11/11 mr.mike OK mumblecore mystery. 3 stars
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  DVD: 02-Aug-2011


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