Coming off the final season of AMC’s brilliant drama series Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston has already earned the respect and admiration of every critic and viewer out there. As chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White, Cranston commanded the small screen with shattering force and, throughout five wonderful seasons, developed one of the most complex antiheroes in television history. As that show concluded, fans mourned not only the loss of Breaking Bad as a whole but also Cranston’s incredible performance. Many questioned whether we’d ever see the actor as anything other than Walter White again.
So, it’s refreshing to see that in Cold Comes the Night, a tense and effective modern film-noir, the actor isn’t content to live off the sizable goodwill that Breaking Bad has afforded him. As near-blind Polish career criminal Topo, Cranston is an exceptionally strong antagonist, equal parts menacing and mysterious. Saddled with a thick accent, the actor can’t quite conjure up the same grandiose evil that made Walter White so memorable, so he smartly keeps things simple. Topo is a weary, aging professional in a business with one, brutal retirement option, but he’s not yet ready to give up the ghost. Cranston imbues Topo with enough sneering menace and chilling stillness to sell his character’s violent past – he’s downright volatile in one tense dining-room discussion – but the actor also communicates Topo’s wretchedness and quiet anger at his increasingly hopeless situation.
Though Cranston’s role in Cold Comes the Night will surely prove its best marketing angle, lead actress Alice Eve’s gripping performance and director Tze Chun’s moody atmosphere also do a lot to elevate the thriller above standard January fare.
As Chloe, the struggling single mother and reluctant owner of a dingy motel, Eve turns in a career-best performance, expertly capturing her character’s desperation and resilience. It’s a decidedly unglamorous turn, and certainly a far cry from her roles in films like Star Trek Into Darkness and She’s Out of My League, but Eve commits to it with a dramatic dexterity hitherto unseen from the actress. Whether she’s icily facing down Cranston’s Topo or tenderly caring for her young daughter (Ursula Parker), Eve commands every frame. If she can avoid being labeled a sex symbol and typecast as such, Cold Comes the Night indicates that the actress has a promising dramatic future.
For his part, Chun fully utilizes his dreary upstate New York setting to construct and maintain an eerie, suspenseful tone. Known for his vastly different but also excellent 2010 feature Children of Invention, the director treats Cold Comes the Night as a modern film-noir. Chloe’s motel is painted as a hole-in-the-wall pivot-point for the area’s citizens’ most immoral behaviors, while the other areas Chun explores also reek of squalor and decay. The underlying darkness of the film’s story is well-suited to its rural setting. Chun’s angles are mostly straightforward, though the director does employ a few well-integrated POV shots to properly communicate Topo’s diminishing sight.
When Topo comes to Chloe’s motel and takes her and her daughter hostage in an attempt to reclaim a cash package from crooked cop Billy (Logan Marshall-Green, intense and convincing despite being resigned to just a few scenes by the film’s compact nature), he unleashes a series of events so brutal and chaotic that the criminal eventually can’t maintain even the pretense of control. The film’s surprisingly smart script finds a truth to its characters and their interactions, though Cold Comes the Night certainly doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The film doesn’t traverse any unfamiliar territory but, despite that fact, great performances and deft execution make it an entertaining ride. Cold Comes the Night also earns points for not outstaying its welcome; at less than an hour and a half, it relays its story efficiently and commits to a logical flow of events, abstaining from any pointless frills.
The grand tragedies of Breaking Bad are nowhere to be found in Cold Comes the Night, and Cranston adjusts his performance accordingly, so any fans of that show hoping to find further awards-worthy brilliance from the actor may be dissatisfied with Cold Comes the Night. However, noir fans in search of a temporary fix will likely find a lot to like in the film.
Though it never attempts to defy convention, Cold Comes the Night is strikingly well-acted and evocatively shot. In a cinematic landscape cluttered with overly ambitious, pretentious thrillers masquerading as thoughtful works of art, it’s refreshing to find a movie with such clarity of purpose. Chun’s dark, moody thriller aims to entertain, and it does just that, nothing more, nothing less.
A tense and effective modern film-noir, Cold Comes the Night boasts great performances and skillful direction, both of which allow it to succeed as a compelling, compact thriller.