Sunday, July 31, 2011

Film Review: "Cold Weather" (***1/2)

It doesn't surprise me that the most entertaining and rewarding cinematic experience I've had since The Tree of Life (which I don't want anyone to believe that I hated) came from an almost unknown source. You can spend so much time away from greatness such as this and begin to blow it out of proportion, so a level head is more than a little bit useful in circumstances such as these. Oddly enough, I find myself having difficulty cracking into this review, because with a film so mundane in its objectives and purpose, what exactly are you supposed to talk about?

Cold Weather is a title that really only has anything to do with one moment in the film, and it's a small moment. That's really what the bulk of Cold Weather is is these small moments, but something that director Aaron Katz manages to do is put a mystery plot in the center of this film. Doug is a former forensic science major who has that typical slacker attitude and is now living his sister in Oregon. This film doesn't wallow in a slacker finding resolve to follow his dreams, nor is it about an awkward living situation with his sister. It's not about the problems of working in an ice factory, and it's certainly not about the weather.

In fact, for the first forty minutes, it's not really about anything. We get the idea of a normal relationship between Doug and Gail, and they're clearly nice and easygoing enough to stand living together. Then we get introduced to Doug's ex-girlfriend Rachel, and you get the idea that they left things off well, and they're still happy to hang out with each other. And then there's Doug's coworker Carlos, who moonlights as a DJ and starts a small relationship with Rachel. They form this really nice family environment, and the first forty minutes are so delightfully quaint.

And then the plot kicks in when Rachel goes missing from her motel room, and it's not the sort of high stakes sort of thriller. The stakes are noticeably low, and even as we get further into this mystery, the film keeps its upbeat sense of humor, and casual sense of intimacy. The characters treat it like it's everything, but maybe that's because they just don't have anything else to do. And the mystery of the film, fun as it may be in a Sherlock Holmes sort of way, isn't really all that important. That's not something to be unhappy about in the slightest.

The film revels in these small moments between the characters, mostly between Doug and Gail. They have such a natural dynamic of sibling love for each other, and it's almost a sort of odd love story. Not in the romantic sort of way, but just in the sense that they have each other. As for below the line elements, I'm usually entirely against music being evident in a film, but Keegan DeWitt's upbeat and flexible score lifts things up quite agreeably, and doesn't distort moments so much as accent them.

The cinematography similarly keeps a steady distance so as not to shove the characters in our faces, because that would betray the characters. You could complain that this film's slow going attitude, practically nonexistent plot, and abrupt ending leave things feeling unfinished, but that escapes the point entirely. In terms of concrete elements, it may not be about anything, but if it had gone any further into plot, it would've betrayed what it is. If that sounds a tad too abstract, then blame that on my inability to focus my jumble of thoughts on this matter. All I know is that Cold Weather is a wonderfully sweet film that becomes an unlikely yet surprisingly intense thriller.

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