Cold Weather Review: The Ice-Packing Detective

On General Release Friday 15th April

An instant hit on the indie circuit having won critical plaudits at SXSW, Cold Weather is an enjoyable romp through the crime sub-genre of amateur detectives, most recently retreaded in HBO’s Bored To Death with which it shares its central concept and the actress Trieste Kelly Dunn, seen here in a more significant role.

College drop-out Doug (Cris Lankenau) moves back to his native Portland with no clear future ahead of him other than a desire to make some quick money and reconnect with his family. A keen reader of detective fiction, he finds solace in Raymond Chandler and Sherlock Holmes stories, a passion he goes on to share with Carlos (Raúl Castillo), a fellow co-worker at the ice factory (“Where did you think the ice in the store comes from?”) where Doug finds temporary employment.

Events take a surprising twist when Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) goes missing, Carlos adamant that nefarious forces are behind her disappearance. Initially dismissed as the side-effect of gorging on too much Sherlock Holmes, a subsequent investigation reveals Carlos might in fact be onto something, luring Doug and his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) irresistibly into the mystery.

It could have been easy for Cold Weather to slide into irritating contrivance, characters mere archetypes facilitating a narrative bent on delivering a cheap film noir pastiche. However, in order for the premise to work, director Aaron Katz spends time with his protagonists before anything peculiar occurs, recognising the importance to establish them as real people ill equipped to conduct a proper investigation rather than award them infinite powers of deduction. Instead, Katz lets them fumble and fail in their efforts, lending the film a rich, playful naturalism. In this respect, Cold Weather shares commonalities with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, a similarly character driven suspense-drama where two ordinary people find themselves suddenly entwined in a murder mystery, relying on amateur sleuthing skills to catch the killer. Both films firmly establish their central characters (including fringe players) at the very beginning and only then proceed to immerse them in the extraordinary, building up audience investment along the way.

An impressive demonstration of what can be done with a smaller budget, Cold Weather is a cinematic treat from start to finish, even if it does begin to run out of momentum somewhat towards the end. Otherwise, excellent performances compliment witty dialogue, whilst Katz’s direction imbues the film with atmosphere and feeling, taking full advantage of Portland’s rain spattered pavements and abandoned industrial sites, all the while resisting the urge to explicitly parody and ape the literature and cinema it so obviously admires.

To borrow a phrase from Carlos, Cold Weather is “the pimp” and one of the most enjoyable films to be released so far this year.