Cold Weather

9 Jan

Title: Cold Weather
Year: 2011
Director: Aaron Katz
Writer: Aaron Katz, with a story by Mr. Katz, Brendan McFadden and Ben Stambler
Starring: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 96 min
IMDb Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 64

 

As I’m working my way through the few 2011 releases I still intend to catch up with before I close that yearly ranking and begin with my year-in-review features I just found myself stumbling across a truly fantastic movie I’m super glad I decided to watch. That movie is Cold Weather, just a thoroughly entertaining film with some really neat storytelling at its core that shows that Aaron Katz, the writer-director of the film and a filmmaker that falls heavily on the mumblecore stylings, is really honing his craft after 2006’s Dance Party USA and the following year’s Quiet City got him his big break, he’s shaping up to be one to watch for me for years to come.

This is just an awesome film, a low-key, low-budget affair that’s set in Portland and that has a crime mystery at its center, but that’s much more about what happens when a group of ordinary people do when they try to figure out a crime than it is about the crime itself. And it’s a great experience, just so subtle in so many neat little ways, a film in which we actually get to know our characters, a rarity in many of today’s films, especially thrillers, and a film in which the acting is so good but in such a subdued way that it goes to some sort of mumblecore hall of fame, you may not notice just how great these actors are. It’s just amazing how natural the whole world Mr. Katz has crafted feels, shot digitally by Andrew Reed in a really great way that makes the whole film feels super intimate, the world feels like we’ve lived there for a while, the characters like we’ve known them for even longer, and as such you maybe won’t appreciate the greatness that’s there because of how ordinary it all feels.

Doug is an unambitious guy who was studying forensics but dropped out and then moved back to Portland, sleeping in his sister’s couch, getting a job at an ice factory. Doug and his sister, Gail, get along just fine, they seem at ease with each other, though not particularly close either, and there’s a scene at a dinner with their parents in which she kind of raises an issue with Doug; but that’s raised, discarded and left unanswered as swiftly as the issue of Doug’s decision to drop out which is never really explained, because it really doesn’t matter. And Cold Weather as whole takes its time with things, the first half-hour or so doesn’t seem to be amounting to that much, the scenes seemingly not adding much to the story and feel, but they are, as they add little bits of texture to the story that will provide an effect you’ll only grasp once the movie’s done. It’s the little things that make this film so great.

At his new workplace, Doug meets Carlos, a part-time DJ whom he quickly befriends to the point of lending him a Sherlock Holmes book, which at first may seem like little but will mean something once Rachel comes into play. She’s an ex-girlfriend of Doug’s who comes back to town, staying at a local motel, to do some training for a job, and Carlos takes her out and Doug is fine with that because he really seems to just be friends with Rachel now. And the film settles in that kind of thing for a while, watching Doug and Carlos and Gail and Rachel just go by their daily lives, do their ordinary things, just chatting it up, drinking, going out. And the naturalistic style of the performances is great, Cris Lankenau and Raul Castillo, as Doug and Carlos, do an especially good job at really seeming as though they are great friends. And yet, suddenly, Rachel seemingly stands up Carlos one night and appears to have disappeared, and, inspired by the book Doug lent him, they become detectives and try to find her, with Gail in tow as the one that will, as Carlos says, provide some common sense.

Finally, then, we have a plot. And its great because, maybe because they have nothing better to do, the guys really get themselves into their roles as detectives, and because the film had previously spent so much time in just introducing us to both the location and the characters, we’re already connected to the people behind the mystery, and it works really splendidly because of that, it becomes a really engrossing film not because of the solution to the mystery but because of the people working to find it. And it’s great because it’s a mystery plot involving ordinary characters that’s actually plausible, which is something that pretty much never happens in films in which regular guys find themselves in situations like these.

Not matter what does happen, though, Cold Weather is always all about the people it’s happening to, and I won’t tire of say that. I mean, Mr. Katz is obviously trying stuff here with the plot, creating the first mumblecore thriller, and toying around with certain genre conventions, but this is always all about people and their interactions with other people. It looks at people that were interested in themselves and sees them through the eyes of someone else, what happens when they become a part of a plural and not just the singular. And it’s just so well done, the direction is outstanding, the tone Mr. Katz finds for this film is great, and how it’s all told with great close-ups and landscape shots (the film was also edited by Mr. Katz) is always pitch-perfect.

I loved Cold Weather, I really did; and you will too, I hope. And if you don’t, and you think this is a boring thriller, because I know there will be many who come to that conclusion, well I’m just sorry to tell you you’d be dead wrong. If people say this film is boring it’s because they’re used to thrillers that like to show-off, they like the long expository speeches and the pointing out of things for them, this film is so great because it makes it all feel so light, because it pays attention to little details and lets them simmer and subtly come to surface. It’s not to be missed.

Grade: A-

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