Cold Weather – Aaron Katz (2010)

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Spoilers.

After breaking up with his girlfriend in Chicago, Doug (Cris Lankenau), a listless college dropout returns to his hometown of Portland, Oregon to live with his well-adjusted sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), who is has seemingly had only a frayed, partial disclosure contact with over the years. When his ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), visits and subsequently goes missing, Doug uses the knowledge he has gleaned in Criminal Justice classes and Sherlock Holmes novels to try and find her.

Sounds like the synopsis for a pretty decent indie mystery thriller, but director Aaron Katz does little with the film aside from use the pretty Portland scenery to good use.

It’s a problem of trying to serve two masters. It’s a quirky mystery thriller, or it’s a film about a brother and sister reconnecting. It appears to actually be the latter, but the scenes of their reconnection are so sparse and sporadically spaced out that it’s a difficult element to piece together as the film’s main course.

The bulk of the film is spent on the mystery, but really the bulk of the film is spent on misdirection. First you think Doug’s coworker Carlos (Raúl Castillo) has killed Rachel, then a guy in a pickup truck possibly killed her, then she’s alive and apparently a hooker of some sort, then someone has stolen her briefcase full of money she was really in town to deliver. In the end we find out nothing about the mystery and little about the characters.

I like a well played bit of misdirection just like the next guy, but it’s a little too heavy handed here, especially since it never pans out to anything. We don’t find out what was in the brief case, but it’s not in a cool Pulp Fiction way where you can speculate on it, instead it is left to a mundane, almost unimportant existence. Instead of cracking it open to look inside, Doug and Gail sit in the car waiting for Rachel and Carlos and listen to mix tapes he made her during high school. It is a betrayal of the urgency the rest of the plot has had.

It’s a complete momentum stopping ending that is basically unworthy of the film. It’s actually a really good film until it so abruptly stops. Like Joe Swanberg’s Alexander the Last, it was almost like they kept shooting the film in order until they ran out of money and called it a film. It just ends. Credits, that’s it.

Still, Trieste Kelly Dunn is a wonderful surprise as the put together Gail, who slightly regresses into high school mode when her slacker brother comes to stay. She plays the role smartly and gracefully, with a great ease and confidence that plays in contrast to the uncomfortable, frail-voiced girls that usually fill these roles.

It ends up being deeply disappointing from Katz, who I rate very highly as a director after his great second feature, Quiet City. I had the chance to interview him when that came out and I found him to be a smart, insightful guy, deeply ambitious (in the best possible way — he mentioned a desire to shoot a western among other things) to not be pigeonholed as one of those mumblecore guys, which he really isn’t, even though Quiet City qualifies. The skill with which he handled the entire film up until the ending gives me great hope about his future projects at the very least.