Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 11, 2011 4:33 pm 
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Solving a riddle, finding each other

Cold Weather, set in Portland in winter, has a dark rich look. Andrew Reed's unobtrusively handsome cinematography tips you off that this is no ordinary mumblecore ego-fest but something tilting toward excellence. The dialogue is naturalistic, but economical, not as much an oxymoron as you might think. The whole thing is very low key, but the action is the more exciting for that, when it finally comes. The movie unfolds as a standard low budget trope: young college graduate returns to his hometown with nothing to do. The same thing just happened in Lena Dunham's debut film, Tiny Furniture. But the difference is huge. Doug (Cris Lankenau) didn't graduate from Oberlin in film studies; he dropped out of a training program in forensic science. He doesn't come back to live in a posh SoHo family loft, but to sleep on the sofa at at the apartment of his older sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn).

An opening scene where Doug fixes dinner at his parents' is mublecore enough. Doug is pleasantly noncommittal, almost incoherent. On his next day in Portland, he succeeds in luring Gail from her work to go on a rainy whale-watching excursion. We're sort of in the land of Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, but things don't get too deep even by indirection. The siblings are seen at a distance picnicking on a bench by the water, in the rain. It's not till the film's final scene that Doug asks Gail a personal question.

Doug gets a minimum wage job at an ice factory and befriends a young Latino coworker, Carlos (Raúl Castillo), an aspiring DJ. He turns Carlos on to Sherlock Holmes stories, which Carlos really likes. In the plain and simple language of Cold Weather, this is a strong hint that the two guys have a yen to play detective. They get a chance to do so when Doug's ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) comes back to town from Chicago on a mysterious mission, and then, the night that Carlos has a date with her, disappears from her motel.

From then on Doug turns out not to have forgotten his abandoned detective training. Carlos backs him up, and Gail plays a key role in getting Rachel out of a dangerous jam after Doug has tracked her down and found out why she disappeared. Frankly, this is like a Nancy Drew mystery, a low-keyed DIY whodonit with code-breaking and a caper and a chase that never resorts to loud music or fancy cutting, has no fires or explosions. The only weapon is a switch blade, and it's used on tires, not humans. But Cold Weather draws you into its ordinariness and by doing so makes its danger and excitement, though not high-octane by Denzel Washington standards, remind you that in real life, pretty small things can be be quite scary, because we're not action heroes.

Relationships are explored in a natural way and in a sense that's what the film is about. The fact that Carlos draws Doug into his hunt for Rachel shows they have truly begun to bond. Does Doug like living with his sister more than he liked living with her? Rachel wants Doug to tell her. He can't say; but here, unlike some mumblecore movies, the inarticulateness seems not self-indulgence but a sign that unfathomable depths of personhood are being gently but honestly explored. Does Gail have any friends? Doug finally asks her: it's one of the most real questions I've heard in a movie in a good while. But as much as Cold Weather's easy, natural connections between young people reluctantly helping each other, I remember the dark rainy hues of its Northwest landscapes, Keegan DeWitt's score that adds delicate touches of excitement at key moments, and the subtle way the relaxed pace gradually becomes urgent.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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