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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: To celebrate the return of Veronica Mars, we dig up some other unconventional detective stories.

Cold Weather (2010)

There’s a rich and recent cinematic tradition of unlicensed detectives running around solving mysteries, and it’s hard to get more amateur than Doug, the grad-school dropout played by Cris Lankenau in Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather. Doug returns to his hometown of Portland after leaving a forensic science program, gets a job at an ice factory, and reconnects with an ex; much of the movie’s first section seems to be teeing up the kind of low-key love triangle that might turn up in a mumblecore movie. (Writer/director Katz also made Quiet City, sort of a missing link between mumblecore and Richard Linklater.) But then Doug’s ex disappears, and he enlists big sister and current roommate Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and new friend Carlos (Raúl Castillo) to help solve what might be a missing-person case.


The detective work of Cold Weather is rudimentary: searching motel rooms, staking out apartment buildings, following people, researching at the library, and—in a moment of Sherlock Holmes fandom—pipe-buying. But the movie’s naturalism injects these simple investigations with a hum of nervous anticipation; surprisingly, for such a low-key production, an element of suspense emerges. The Portland area doesn’t seem like an obvious fit for noir-ish mystery—until Katz’s camera captures its atmosphere. He has the sharpest, cleanest eye of his ennui-exploring peers, and shoots the city’s locations to suggest both the overcast beauty of this specific place (there’s a gorgeous shot from a distance of Doug and Gail standing on a bridge in front of a huge waterfall) and the more universal seediness of a hometown’s weird underbelly (motel parking lots, shadowy storage facilities).

The central mystery is too grounded to allow for shocking twists, but Katz does such a canny job threading in the relationship between these grown siblings that the procedure—both in their detective work and figuring out how to relate to each other—becomes the whole movie. Cold Weather encapsulates its funny, sweet sensibility in one shot: its brother and sister sleuths, sitting in car on a stakeout and eating Swedish Fish, prepping for the transition from twentysomething boredom to detective-movie excitement.

Availability: Cold Weather is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.

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