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“Cold Weather” and the Mystery of the Lost Detective Genre

"Cold Weather" and the Mystery of the Lost Detective Genre

Genre baiting seems a good way to woo people into indie film. But is it too often a bait and switch game? Sci-fi geeks favoring big budget movies tend to be disappointed by stuff like “Monsters” and the recent Sundance breakout “Another Earth.” And detective mystery fans like myself may be underwhelmed by revisionist fare like Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather,” which has a slow build and then also an unsatisfying follow-through. I am not a fan of Rian Johnson’s popular high school ‘noir’, “Brick,” either, so I’m probably in the minority once again. I can say, however, that I loved the first half of “Cold Weather” more than I liked most whole films last year. So I can’t completely recommend avoiding it.

In a way, “Cold Weather” is like the many indie superhero movies that ask what it would be like for an average joe to become a costumed crusader. In this case, the film asks what it would be like for an average joe to be a master sleuth. Now thanks to Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes is like a superhero anyway. So it fits. Oh yeah, and Batman is supposed to be Holmes-like too. (Supposed to be). In the film, a brother and sister (who EVERYONE thinks is a couple at first, which is kind of weird) become a modern day Holmes wannabe and semi-Watson when the guy’s ex-girlfriend goes missing. But the final act doesn’t fulfill in the whodunit capacity you might wish for. For what Katz wants the film to be, that’s fine. For those of us waiting for an actual new yet traditional detective film, it’s not.

I’m sure it’s too much to want another mystery franchise and iconic detective character in cinema. Television took over the genre in conventional terms decades ago. But TV didn’t replace the mystery genre in literature, so why must it be one or the other in visual media? And no, neither the “Sherlock Holmes” nor “Batman” franchises cater the same demand that real old Holmes movies, as well as classic adaptations of Hammett, Christie and Biggers, do. Is it wrong of me to want an old-fashioned round-up of suspects and cleverly written deduction on the big screen? Similar to “Cold Weather,” I was recently frustrated when Claude Lelouch’s “Roman de gare” went from being a taut mystery to a convoluted twist-ending thing involving confusion over what’s real and what’s not.

That of course makes it seem like “The Usual Suspects,” which it’s not, for better and worse. “Suspects” isn’t exactly a detective film, though I could see it defended as such. You can also argue for the sake of a number of other revisionist noirs made in the last twenty years, but nothing I can think of has the strict generic formula of a classic detective film. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with something every now and again sticking with that basic mystery genre code. It can still happen in the era of forensics and computers. It can even be a period film, as in the case of Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park,” which did too play around with genre conventions and was brilliant in its renovations. I might have still liked the film had it been more faithful, though.

Perhaps the news that the “Alex Cross” franchise is being rebooted with Tyler Perry is a sign that detective movies are headed for a resurgence. Or maybe that “Thin Man” remake with Johnny Depp is. Or that “Charlie Chan” movie Lucy Liu has been trying to make for a decade. But I think the best for the job of jump starting the genre are the Coen brothers. Not only have they dipped into mystery and noir stories time and time again, but they also just made the most successful western film in decades. So how about it Joel and Ethan? Want to adapt a Hercule Poirot story? Or have either “Clue” or “The Thin Man” be your next remake?

As for “Cold Weather,” if you want an experiment with genre — and I’m all for that, which is why I loved the majority of it — you should see it. It’s been a very long time since I saw it, and I’m curiously going to revisit it soon, as well. It opens in NYC this weekend and hits VOD next Wednesday. Here’s a trailer that might spark your interest:

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