Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cold Weather (2010, Aaron Katz)

Cold Weather is a treasure because it’s not ashamed to be modest of scale. To the contrary, writer/director/editor Aaron Katz relishes in the very smallness of his movie, and the movie is all the more pleasurable for it. Everything about the movie feels modest, beginning with the ambitions of its protagonist Doug (Cris Lankenau), a twentysomething who’s recently dropped out of college but might, y’know, go back, like, eventually. For now, he’s content to shack up with his slightly more career-minded big sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), work nights at the local ice factory, and hang out when he’s off the clock.

Of course, a plot eventually finds its way into the mix, but to Katz’s credit he never lets it get out of hand with the rest of the movie. Doug, who had studied forensic science before dropping out, gets caught up in some intrigue involving an ex-girlfriend, and suddenly finds it necessary to call on some of his modest expertise. I won’t go into details about the mystery element of the story here, so that any interested readers might enjoy it themselves. But I appreciated that Katz never let the mystery stuff overwhelm everything else- not only is it exactly the sort of small-scale intrigue that of which a guy like Doug might find himself in the center, but it also never loses sight of the characters and their unique personalities. Lankenau is a real find here, creating a sort of slacker-gumshoe who’s the most interesting shamus to waltz down the pipe since Bill Pullman’s sadly forgotten Darryl Zero. I loved a wonderful little bit in which Doug, an avowed Sherlock Holmes fan, goes shopping for a pipe to “help him think” (just like his hero), only to discover that the pipes worthy of Holmes are priced well out of his budget, and he has to make due with a plainer, more workaday model, which get the job done but lacks the same flair.

Strangely enough, it’s because Katz concentrates on his characters- not just Doug, but also Gail and even his coworker turned sidekick Carlos (Raul Castillo)- that the mystery manages to generate real suspense. Too many mystery movies depend on obvious techniques of setup-and-payoff that it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker who is able to generate suspense by forcing his protagonist to think his way of trouble. Katz places us squarely with Doug from the outset, so that when he finds himself in a jam, it scarcely matters that the stakes are actually fairly low- because Doug and his cohorts take it seriously, so do we.

The ending in Cold Weather comes as a surprise. That’s not to say there’s a twist ending- far from it, really- but I was sort of taken aback that Katz decided to wrap up his story before the mystery had seemingly been resolved. Most movies of this kind would have found Doug bailing out his ex, the culprits brought to justice, and everything getting back to normal, but the final scene shows that Katz wasn’t making a mystery involving Doug and his friends, but Doug and his friends stumbling into, through, and out of a mystery. Because of this, the central concern is one of character and how the people in the film change, rather than simply being cogs in a plot machine, and this makes Cold Weather one of the most pleasurable films of the year so far.

Rating: 8 out of 10.