Judge Patrick Bromley is always sunny and 72. Just like Pasadena.
Bring an umbrella.
The Weather Man is the best movie of 2005 that you didn't see. Don't feel too badly, though, as you're not alone. The movie made only $12 million during its theatrical run last fall, and disappeared off the radar in a matter of weeks.
Now the movie gets a second chance—and hopefully a fair shake—thanks to Paramount DVD.
Facts of the Case
Chicago weather man Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage, Trapped in Paradise) is just trying to hold it together. He's split from his wife (Hope Davis, Mumford, American Splendor), who's seeing another man and seems to have lost her tolerance for Dave. His daughter (Gemmenne de la Pena, Erin Brockovich) is overweight, unhappy, and alienated. His son (About a Boy's Nicholas Hoult, doing a passable American accent) has just finished a stint in rehab and is developing a troubling relationship with one of his counselors. His father (Michael Caine, Batman Begins, Dressed to Kill), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, is sick. The entire city of Chicago has a habit of hurling fast food at him.
That is, until he starts carrying a bow and arrow around.
Dave Spritz is our guide through director Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man, but the movie doesn't really tell us his story. This isn't really a story at all, but rather a brief window into one man's life. We're not there to pity him. We're not there to laugh at him. We're just there to listen to him, and to try and understand what he's going through.
Here is a movie that restores ambiguity to the Major Studio Production, if only for two hours; we may not like Dave Spritz, but The Weather Man doesn't demand that we do. It presents us with a character that's not pathetic, and not a buffoon, but who's just flawed—a guy trying his hardest to do the best that he can, even when he's not sure what that means. He wants to make his father proud, but can't relate; likewise with his daughter (de la Pena, as Cage's daughter, seems less like a professional actor and more like a real kid that just happened to wander onto a movie a set). The entire city of Chicago seems to resent him (side note: the city looks better here than it has in years, and the movie belongs on the short list of movies that really know Chicago, from the bitter cold to the Styrofoam soda cups from Portillo's hot dog stand) for having a job they see as "too easy." The trouble is, he can't very well gain the respect of others when he's not even sure he's deserving of their respect himself. Consider his occupation, which requires that he make predictions about something as intangible as the wind, while all along he's standing in front of a blank wall. There's nothing really there at all. It's all an illusion: the Illusion of Control. It's what Dave Spritz specializes in—only now, that illusion is beginning to crack like the winter ice covering Lake Michigan.
This is not a movie of major revelations and huge payoffs. Life isn't like that. Life is arguments about tartar sauce and not having exact change to buy a newspaper, and the way that those seemingly tiny events can build to an existence of quiet desperation. The Weather Man is too perceptive, too smart, and too modest for dramatic bombast. In fact, the best moment in the film—possibly in any film that came out last year—finds Cage and Cain doing nothing more than sitting in a car, listening to Bob Seger's "Like a Rock." Cage's slow unraveling and Caine's beautiful, bruised dialogue make for a scene that's gentle but weighty, devastating but hopeful. It alone captures what's so special about the movie—the honesty, the originality, the sad comedy of it all. Even the song works, because it's never played for ironic laughs—it takes an otherwise odd choice and manages to find truth and dignity in it. This is a scene that could have been handled all wrong, but here achieves a pessimistic sweetness—a kind of grey-colored beauty.
That The Weather Man was made by a major Hollywood studio is a kind of small miracle; that it was directed by one the town's "hottest" directors, Gore Verbinski (of The Ring and the Pirates of the Caribbean series), is even more surprising. I had already lumped Verbinski into the "Brett Ratner" category of directing: talented directors-for-hire, but essentially just commercial hacks. Verbinski has always demonstrated tremendous style in his films, but never much depth—that is, until now. His graceful, moody work on The Weather Man proves that he is not only willing to take risks, but talented enough to pull it off.
Of course, he gets major support from Tony Gilroy's dense, literate screenplay, which seems to have been designed specifically for Nicolas Cage—it's written precisely in his cadence, filled with the kind of small implosions and eccentric slang the actor excels at. This is Good Nicolas Cage, the one found in Bringing Out the Dead and Adaptation and Matchstick Men. This is the Nicolas Cage that rears his head in quieter, character driven fare—not the gesticulating, hammy Cage "acting" for mainstream audiences in The Family Man and National Treasure. It's the kind of performance that reminds us that Nicolas Cage has the ability to be one of our finest actors.
Paramount's DVD of The Weather Man does some much-appreciated justice to this underrated film. As is to be expected for a new release, the movie looks terrific; presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer of 1.85:1 (a full screen version is also available), the transfer—like Phedon Papamichael's chilly cinematography—is crisp and gorgeous. The audio options, while perfectly adequate, are less impressive. Because the emphasis of the movie is on conversation, neither the 5.1 nor 2.0 surround tracks are allowed much dimensionality (with the exception of a rainy-day funeral sequence late in the film), but the dialogue is serviced will and nicely balance with Hans Zimmer's evocative score.
Though a sticker on the disc jacket promises "a blizzard of extras," that's not entirely accurate; the supplemental section consists of nothing more than five cloyingly-titled (things like "Extended Outlook" and "Relative Humidity") featurettes. While that may not seem like much, the featurettes actually total over an hour in total running time, and do a nice job over covering the creative aspects of production in a manner that's nearly as good a full-length commentary track, and probably more succinct. Also included is a collection of bonus trailers for other Paramount titles, with Paramount's other big end-of-the-year disappointment, Elizabethtown, among them. Finally, there's the movie's excellent original theatrical trailer, which promises much in the way of tone but little in the way of plot. Apparently, audiences won't come out for tone.
The commercial failure of The Weather Man is unfortunate, because it means that Hollywood will green light one less film of this type in the coming year. As to the reasons for that failure, who can say? Maybe it was the timing of the movie's release, which was pushed from April of last year all the way to October. Or maybe it was the marketing, which made it look like a movie about a guy who gets food thrown at him. Or maybe it was the overall critical reception of the film, which could only be described as tepid at best—the word "depressing" got thrown around an awful lot, and a there was a general attitude of "that's not why we go to the movies." I guess that depends on what you go to the movies for. It goes back to something the great Roger Ebert likes to say: "No good movie is depressing. All bad movies are." The Weather Man is a good movie.
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Scales of Justice
• Featurette: "Extended Outlook: The Script"
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