Writer-director Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather” is one part Sherlock Holmes, one part Raymond Chandler, one part love letter to Portland and one part family drama. Mixed together, the result is a funny and subtle gumshoe tale.
The film centers around Doug (Cris Lankenau) is a twenty-something going nowhere. Following a break-up, he moves back to Portland, where he shares a place with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Once a promising student of forensic science who hoped to follow in the footsteps of the great Sherlock Holmes, Doug ends up taking a job in an ice factory.
Around the time that his ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), shows up from Chicago for a visit, Doug befriends his co-worker Carlos (Raúl Castillo), and wouldn’t you know it, Rachel and Carlos begin hanging out. When Rachel fails one night to show up to watch Carlos DJ, Doug is enlisted to use his detective skills to help find her.
Where Holmes worked the streets of cold, damp, dreary London with Watson by his side, Doug prowls the ins and outs of the similarly rain-soaked Portland, following one clue after another in pursuit of his ex, with his sister riding shotgun.
Watching Katz’s depiction of Portland play out on the screen, it’s clear that he has for years been cataloging the very best locations in the city. From the bird’s-eye view of a street crisscrossed with multi-colored pennants to a set of mossy stairs descending from a park, most every moment is a perfectly composed picture.
Lankenau has a great rapport with both Dunn and Castillo, forging a low-wattage vibe with each that feels totally natural. He’s the every essences of understated, his Doug a clever and resourceful crime fighter sneaking through life in the guise of a doofus. But in classic slacker tradition, he needs a good shove to overcome the inertia that pervades every corner of his being.
Spoiler/baseball nerd alert: There’s a point in the film where Doug discovers a secret code, which he later realizes is a string of baseball stats. He dashes off to the library and grab from the shelf what is unmistakably a copy of MacMillan’s “The Baseball Encyclopedia.” Figuring out which player generated what line of stats in a given year using that book would be needle-in-a-haystack impossible, but one could easily find it on baseball-reference.com in about five seconds. It’s a minor annoyance, the kind of thing maybe .3% of the population would catch, but totally unnecessary—the trip to the library doesn’t even help move the plot forward.
Watching “Cold Weather,” it’s clear that Katz is poised to follow fellow “mumblecore” vanguard members Mark and Jay Duplass into the world of seven-figure budgets and Hollywood talent. Whether or not that’s something he wants is another question entirely.
"Cold Weather" opens Feb. 4 in NYC and is available on VOD nationawide