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Cold Weather

D: Aaron Katz / 96m

Cast: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raúl Castillo, Robyn Rikoon, Jeb Pearson, Brendan McFadden

Doug (Lankenau) is a twenty-something slacker with a background in forensic science but no motivation to make a career from it.  When Cold Weather begins he’s without a job, without a girlfriend, and reduced to sleeping on his sister’s couch.  He’s a classic underachiever.  Eventually he gets a job working nights at an ice factory where he meets Carlos (Castillo).  They become friends, and the usually aimless Doug begins to come out of his shell, admitting his love of Sherlock Holmes and his dream to become a detective some day, like the sleuth of 221b Baker Street (also, throughout the movie Doug carries a copy of E.W. Hornung’s Raffles around with him).  When Doug’s ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Rikoon) appears on the scene her subsequent disappearance leads Doug, aided and pushed in equal measure by his sister, Gail (Dunn) and Carlos, into using his nascent detective skills to find her.

Cold Weather is a curious movie.  It mixes modern film noir with a slacker aesthetic and adopts a slow-burn pace in an effort to heighten the drama and the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance.  However, the mix fails to gel, and the viewer is left waiting for the movie to pull itself together.  When Doug and Carlos are in Rachel’s motel room looking for clues – a scene normally ripe for increased tension – there’s some rudimentary checking of drawers and the bathroom before Doug notices something in the parking lot.  Instead of this being a sudden revelation geared to reinforcing the audience’s attention, it falls flat due to a) Lankenau’s reading of the line (it’s not his fault, to be fair, it’s how the character has been written by Katz), and b) the static camerawork that leaves Carlos’ reaction almost offscreen.

Cold Weather - scene

There’s a fair degree of intelligence at work here but it’s undermined by the decision to pace the movie so glacially, and by having its central character be so socially awkward and unable to engage with others.  When we meet Rachel it’s hard to understand what she might have seen in Doug; plus it’s already obvious that the only female relationship that Doug is comfortable with is with Gail, and she is often more of a mother to him than a sister.  As the movie struggles on to its annoyingly abrupt ending, Doug does become less and less insular but only registers any real emotion when delighting in some minor vandalism.  What becomes clear is that without the involvement of Carlos and Gail, Doug would never have looked into Rachel’s disappearance at all.  With this in mind, the movie now feels contrived, and Doug given no motivation to act unless his friend and sister bully him into it.

Against this, there’s also the aforementioned glacial pacing.  Katz directs at a snail’s pace, dragging out shots and scenes for no other purpose (it seems) than to extend what would otherwise be a pretty short movie.  One sequence, where Gail and Doug are driving up to the top of a multi-storey car park, is filmed from the backseat and contains no dialogue as they ascend.  The view through the windscreen is over-exposed, so there’s no detail… and the whole sequence serves no valid purpose.  There are other, similar moments and while slow-paced movies can be rewarding in their own right, they still have to be engaging and astute in the assembly of the material.

Fortunately the performances are good, with Lankenau – who also appeared in Katz’s Quiet City (2007) – effective as the bordering-on-Asperger’s Doug, while Dunn quietly outshines everyone with her take on a sister who seems to have willingly put her life on hold to look after her brother.  Castillo and Rikoon provide solid support and the suitably wintry location photography – all steely greys and blues – is lensed by Andrew Reed to great effect.  And while Katz’s screenplay is packed with unnecessary longueurs, there is still enough of merit to warrant looking out for his other works (he just needs to sack his current editor – himself).

Rating: 5/10 – it drags badly in places but Cold Weather has a quirky feel to it that helps it through; there’s a deeper meaning here too but it all depends on whether or not the viewer is interested enough to dig for it.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.