Monday, 23 May 2011

Cold Weather (Aaron Katz, 2010) DVD Review

Doug (Cris Lankenau) and Gail (Trieste Kelly) Dunn have a mystery to solve in Cold Weather...

There's a lifelike stillness to Cold Weather which can't quite be described with words, and as a film critic that fact perplexes me. Why is it that, given the tools at my disposal, I can't explain this Sherlock Holmes inspired slacker mystery to you? I mean, that hopeless summation gets close to the tone, but even if detailed the plot and characters, and analysed the ambitious genre intentions of writer/director Aaron Katz, I still wouldn't leave you with anything like a decent review, or an honest impression of the film itself, which is most closely related to the mumblecore movement (currently experimenting within the realm of genre filmmaking; see Kelly Reichardt's breathtaking Western Meek's Cutoff, 2010). I suppose the best way to summarize Katz's film is to quote American critic Roger Ebert, in reference to Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), when he described it as being "all genre and no story." But then, despite its meandering naturalism and devotion to character, Cold Weather does have a story. It kicks in somewhere around the 40-minute mark, and goes like this...

Doug (Cris Lankenau) is a twentysomething college dropout who has recently moved back to his hometown. His study was forensic science, but a job in an ice factory, where he meets geeky DJ/Star Trek fan Carlos (Raúl Castillo), now proves an easy way to make money. There's a beautifully judged scene where the camera observes Doug and Carlos at work, panning back and forth as they stack boxes of ice, discussing their careers, hobbies and aspirations. For five minutes the camera just floats between them as they engage in dialogue which has nothing to do with narrative progression. They just talk, as people talk, and I forgot that I was watching actors. Anyway, back to the 'plot'. Doug is now living with his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), and their relationship can be strenuous; growing into adulthood, they're learning both the limitations and strengths of their sibling bond, and becoming comfortable in each other's space. Doug goes about his daily routine, with days spent disposing of excess ice and nights reading fiction on the couch under a dim light. These details appear incidental, but they're vital, because they inform us of character. Exposition, thankfully, is non-existent in the world of Cold Weather. Doug soon meets up with his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), who says that she's in town on business and staying in a nearby motel. One night the four gather for a game of poker and get along well. Carlos and Rachel become close, but Doug doesn't mind; he's still friends with his ex, but romantic feelings have long since evaporated, likely adding to the dulled and moody air of the gorgeous Portland environments, lensed by DP Andrew Reed.

At this point something happens which suggests a conscious movement into plot, but the film retains its sense of naturalism, always being driven by character. Rachel promises to be at Carlos' DJ set, but she never shows. Carlos forces Doug to come with him to her motel room, for investigation. At the motel the lights are on but nobody's home; meanwhile a pickup truck stalks our characters from outside. Now we're in the realm of detective fiction, except that Katz's careful eye makes it seem like detective fact, deeply rooted as we are into the real world, and not once slipping into movie cliché. Sure, there are codes to break and cars to be followed, but we're miles away from even Holmes himself, or at least his filmic incarnations. Frankly, it's a breath of fresh air.

The score by Keegan DeWitt plays like the most beautiful indie acoustic album in the world. The soft tinkling and plucking of its tones would initially feel more at home in a Juno-esque rom-com (actually, the main suite reminded me of Alexandre Desplat's work on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson, 2009), but that just adds to Cold Weather's covert playfulness. For the most part it's played completely straight, and at times the film is deeply moving. In one scene, while on a stakeout, Doug asks Gail if she has any friends. He asks politely, for the people in Cold Weather are kind and empathetic, but she is still disarmed by the question. A moment of sad silence lingers between them, as she slowly realises that maybe she doesn't have many friends. But there's a reason. Letting her guard down she confesses to her brother that she's just got out of a six month relationship. They'd never discussed it before.

I wonder what the point of a mystery is, because resolution isn't a factor on Katz's mind. The film comes to a close on a thrillingly low-key chase sequence, resulting in Doug and Gail sitting on the top level of a car park. There are so many questions left unanswered, and the fate of everyone hangs in the balance. Doug rewinds a mixtape and we cut to black. Credits. I don't mind that there was no resolution, because A) life doesn't always provide one, and B) maybe that's not what the film is about. What's it about then, I hear you ask. How the hell should I know, I answer. I can't even summarize the damn thing...

The Disc/Extras
A perfect little package, and the film looks fantastic. Extras include a commentary with Katz and producers Brendan McFadden and Ben Stambler, a stills gallery, original trailer and an alternate ending, which I like just as much as the existing one. Best of all is a three-minute live rendition of the track 'End Credits' from the score, performed by DeWitt and his orchestra. I almost cried with joy, and can't wait to download the whole thing. EDIT: Here's an official link to download the entire score.

Cold Weather is released on DVD on May 23rd. This review can originally be found at Flickfeast.

1 comment:

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