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Mumblecore meets Arthur Conan Doyle in the ambitious, if not always satisfying, “Cold Weather,” a gentle drama steeped in Oregon rain and filmmaker Aaron Katz’s affection for his native Portland.
With his third feature, the writer-director has set up an intriguing challenge for himself: the melding of low-budget ennui and high-concept storytelling. In the execution, he doesn’t quite find the right balance. But at its most successful, the film zeroes in on the kind of unemphatic emotional nakedness and cinematic sweep that should leave audiences eager to see what Katz does next.
“Cold Weather,” which continued its festival run at the recently concluded Los Angeles Film Festival, was picked up last month by IFC Films and will receive simultaneous theatrical and on-demand release later this year.
At the center of the story is another incarnation of the twentysomething new-millennial antihero: a goofy-sweet shlub. College dropout Doug (Cris Lankenau, who starred in the director’s “Quiet City”) has ended his studies in forensic science but hasn’t forsaken dreams of emulating Sherlock Holmes. Back in hometown Portland, he is rooming with older sister Gail (the excellent Trieste Kelly Dunn) and biding his time on the night shift at an ice factory. (In one of the film’s well-used documentary elements, the operation’s real boss, Jerry Moyer, cameos as himself.)
When Doug’s ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) arrives in town, Doug doesn’t notice the fishiness of her story. When she goes missing, it takes some nudging from Carlos (Raul Castillo), a friend from work, before he hits the mystery-solving trail. At certain points, the audience will be one step ahead of Doug; at others, out in the cold as to the meaning of clues. The case, such as it is, doesn’t unfold in a way that allows the viewer to become invested in the whys and hows. But in Katz’s scheme, the mystery is secondary to Doug’s relationships with Carlos and especially Gail. She plays an increasingly important role in the sleuthing, which unfolds in halting but effective fashion, complete with a shopping detour to purchase a Holmesian accoutrement.
Most of the suspense derives from Keegan DeWitt’s outstanding score, clangy and percussive, and the nimble camerawork of Andrew Reed, whose often elegant compositions build a strong sense of place. A late-in-the-proceedings burst of action-adventure, exceedingly mild by genre standards, leads to a lovely pow of an ending. For too much of the film, though, the DIY aesthetic, content to ponder quotidian details and conversational trivialities, errs on the side of dull. Even given Doug’s wishy-washiness, Lankenau’s performance is too recessive.
The two most interesting and best-played characters are Gail and part-time DJ Carlos. Dunn is compelling as the responsible sister, even-tempered but steely and guarded. The sibling dynamics — Katz’s chief concern — never are overstated, and he captures subtle power plays with a steady gaze.
This approach to filmmaking, welcome though it is as an antidote to airless Hollywood concoctions and overdetermined art house fare, often works more as concept than as involving narrative. Katz’s script contains a few terrific lines; a bit more spark in the dialogue could have lent his film more momentum.
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival (IFC Films)
Production: Parts and Labor in association with White Buffalo Entertainment
Cast: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon
Screenwriter-director-editor: Aaron Katz
Story by: Aaron Katz, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler
Executive producer: Jack Turner
Producers: Brendan McFadden, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Ben Stambler
Director of photography: Andrew Reed
Production designer: Elliott Glick
Music: Keegan DeWitt
No rating, 96 minutes
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