Review: Cold Comes The Night
January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
(8/10) When selling a script, one of the key factors in it getting at least noticed, let alone sold, is adhering to structure. There’s a basic set of rules for screenwriting, first and foremost being roughly 1 page equals 1 minute of film, that dictates certain things need to happen by a certain page (or minute count) in order for the film to not drag or for the film to not feel too abrupt and to fall within a 90-120 minute run time. Within that structure, the writer is then asked to get creative so as to stand out from the endless line of amateurs trying their hand at creating the next great Hollywood movie. This means an original story, or unique characters or clever dialogue and so on. If you watch most movies carefully, you can sort of notice where each note is hit, but they waffle by a minute here, five minutes there.
In the case of Cold Comes The Night, the structure is technically flawless. At the 5 minute mark we know not only what our protagonist’s main motivation is, but what their status quo is like and what they’d like changed. By the 10 minute mark we have all our key players introduced. At the 15 minute mark we have the inciting incident that sets off the story that is the excuse for this film existing. Every single line of dialogue moves the story forward or reveals something new about the characters, every action adds to the suspense or the mystery and, again, moves the story forward. This is precision film making at its best. Now, based on what I have said so far, it seems that I am implying the film is rote, or predictable. I am and I am not. On the one hand, the logic of the film is air tight, forcing the characters actions and developments in ways that are essentially believable. On the other hand, these are all multi-dimensional characters so that what come out of their mouths and how their thought process works is not particularly rote. This makes for the perfect storm of swift story telling and kinda-sorta edge of your seat thrills.
Chloe (Alice Eve- dressed down; possibly eschewing any make-up though I could be wrong about that) is a single mother working a hotel managing job in a small North East town. The motel is notorious for its prostitution and generally degenerate or sketchy occupants. The kind of hotel with an hourly rate. You know that one, usually by a highway entrance or exit, that never needs to post a ‘No Vacancy’ sign. She manages the entire place single handedly. Social workers are breathing down Chloe’s neck to change residences for the sake of her child, Sophia (Ursula Parker, lest they be forced to place her in a foster home for her own safety and well-being. It’s clear that she is oblivious or indifferent to the motel’s issues and lives a fairly normal child hood, minus a father-figure.
The barely-functional motel is protected, in the good sense and the bad sense, by a local cop named Billy (Logan Marshall-Green aka the poor man’s Tom Hardy) who gives Chloe tips on how to keep the motel safe and investigation free, while enabling illicit activities to quietly continue without it hurting her. This precarious existence is jeopardized by the arrival of two men driving an old Jeep Cherokee. Quincy (Robin Taylor) is its ornery, childish driver, who is giving swift and safe passage to a mysterious half-blind Russian named Topo [Bryan Cranston, still (or already) sporting his end-of-the-run ‘Breaking Bad’ beard].
When Quincy does as undiagnosed, ornery ADHD suffering people do and manages to muck up simple instructions due to a passing fancy, he unwittingly forces Topo to acquiesce Chloe’s assistance in his mission. This is where the plot obviously thickens and I must stop describing and start critiquing.
As I said before, the film is structurally perfect and runs a tight 90 minutes with credits. As the mystery and suspense ramps up, co-writer/director Tze Chun keeps the proceedings moving a mile a minute, with one situation starting happening and concluding in three to five minute chunks, with causality for the next chain of events, careening towards the endgame for the filmmakers. There’s a screenwriting guru named Paul Golino who has a book called “The Sequence Approach” dictating six three act mini-movies which will perfectly push the movie from the inception to the conclusion. Each of the six 3-act mini movies could, to some degree, function on their own as a short story. Together they make up the novel-length movie. This is pulpy neo-noir at its best. Tze Chun understands his characters inside and out.
If the film feels oddly satisfying, like a perfect meal or a craving that you feed which hits the spot, that’s because it was specifically designed, almost at a chemical level, to feel that way. Tight, logical, efficient, stimulating. As an audience member I have no complaints. Great acting, great direction, perfect writing, with just enough exposition and just enough cliches thrown in to breed familiarity and prevent us from being confused about a single aspect of the story or its characters.
In limited release or Video On Demand