Few movie characters of late have been so expertly crafted - and, as a result, become so compelling - as Dave Spritz, the title character of the dark comedy "The Weather Man." From conception to performance to directorial presentation, this is a complete, endlessly interesting portrait of a man whose life is falling utterly, depressingly, hilariously apart.
We only spend 100 minutes with this man, and yet, by the end, we feel as if we know him as well as we know ourselves. This is because screenwriter Steve Conrad ("Wrestling Ernest Hemingway") manages to put so much information into such small spaces. Consider the character's name, which we learn was shortened from "Spritzer" because some producer long ago thought "Spritz" sounded more "refreshing." Through this, we understand that Dave is, quite frankly, a phony - he puts on a smiling face, fakes his way through the newscast, everything's dandy. This is why people think they know him (he comes into their living rooms every night), this and is why people hate him ("I receive a large reward for pretty much zero effort and contribution," he explains). There's a brilliant, brief comic scene in which a husband and wife watch Dave on the news and argue; she likes him, finds him relaxing and nice, while he sees through the mask - "he's bullshit," he plainly deduces.
And it's true. He is. Dave's professional successes are counteracted by his personal failures. This is the story of a man who's falling to pieces but can't show it to the world. And for all the control he displays at his job, he lacks control in every other corner of his life. Worse, every time he tries to fix something, he only makes it worse.
Which brings us to Nicolas Cage, who stars as Dave. Here is an actor who knows how to create frustration and regret with just a glance. It is Cage that makes this wholly unlikable, hopelessly clueless loser actually work. He gains our sympathies. Another actor might have pushed things too far in one direction or the other, but Cage works the balance between idiot and average Joe - we cringe at all of Dave's mistakes, yet we want to root for him, because he is, after all, just a working stiff trying to make things right. He is us.
We might not want to think of Dave Spritz as "us," but that is part of the brutal honesty of the film. Conrad's script aims for the biting, the stinging, even the vulgar parts of our lives, and in doing so, he presents an angry truth. There is a the scene late in the film that finds Dave discussing how all the possible versions of himself slowly slipped away, until he was left with only one: himself as he is now. Everyone eventually comes this point in life, where, like Dave, a compromise must be made between the life we wish we had and the life we actually have. "The Weather Man" is Dave's inner crisis.
His inner crisis, of course, is fueled by his outer ones, and Conrad knows how to pour it on hard. Surrounding Dave, we find: a father (Michael Caine, in a masterful performance) who's a world famous author, a wise man, and an impossible act for any son to follow; a wife (Hope Davis) who's put up with all she can, but Dave can't understand that it's time to move on; a daughter (Gemmenne de la Peña) already unhappy with life and immune to her father's ill-conceived plans for bonding; and a son (Nicholas Hoult) whose beginning drug problems (and, perhaps, a too-absent father) are leading him into deeper troubles. As Dave tries to remedy these issues, his knack for doing and/or saying the wrong thing consistently expounds the problems. It is, of course, wickedly funny to watch this man stumble so grandly, but there's also something bittersweet in how it all works out. There's a piece of mind to be found in such little moments like the one where Dave's son tells him that he has no desire to follow in his footsteps, and both agree that this is a good thing; so much pain has come from Dave trying to become his father, and the disappointment that followed (from both himself and his father), that he knows most of all to let his son go his own way.
Director Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Ring") has crafted a lyrical work, developing a methodical rhythm that puts us in Dave's state of mind right from the start. His camera placement is poetic and precise, with Hans Zimmer's contemplative musical cues underscoring the deeper emotions of the film. Here, Verbinski washes his film in beiges and greys and icy blues, thus keeping the more absurd comic moments from becoming too loose. But he also keeps the dreariness from overwhelming the humor - therefore ensuring that for all its darkness and moody introspection, the film remains a comedy above all else. "The Weather Man" is vicious and harsh, but it is also so very funny.
Criminally overlooked upon its theatrical release, "The Weather Man" works even better upon a second viewing. The viewer is now more familiar with the pacing of the story and the bitterness of the characters, which could be taken at first glance as off-putting. Now more settled into things, we can spend more time studying Dave's predicament. Which means, of course, that we can go deeper into Cage's (and his exceptional co-stars') captivating performance, Verbinski's studious direction, and Conrad's compact writing. I found this to be one of 2005's best films when it hit theaters, and catching it again, I love it even more.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is quite beautiful, allowing Phedon Papamichael's rich cinematography to truly shine. The film's playful use of colors is on full display, taking a drab winter look and making it pop.
The 5.1 Dolby Surround soundtrack doesn't make too much use of the surround, but then, not much is needed. The effects and music are crisp, while the dialogue - notably Cage's involving narration - is properly placed as the focal point of the mix. Also included is a nice 2.0 stereo mix and a French track in 5.1 surround. Optional subtitles in English and Spanish are available.
A genuine mixed bag here. The film's making-of is divided into five featurettes of varying quality. (I'll ignore the fact that some yutz somewhere, trying too hard to be cute for a movie that is unquestionably not "cute," chose to slap them with dopey forecast-related titles.) The featurettes, all presented in 1.33:1 full screen (clips from the film are letterboxed), are:
"Extended Outlook: The Script" (10 min.) An overlong but interesting peek into the screenplay's development, mainly worth watching for Conrad's tales of friends pelting weathermen and other anecdotes that reveal the inspiration for several key scenes. You can tune out for all the back-patting that goes on here - you know, the "gee, so-and-so was so great to work with" variety.
"Forecast: Becoming a Weatherman" (5 min.) Meet Tom Skilling, WGN's chief meteorologist and a technical advisor for the movie. He's an interesting guy, and his comments here make up for the fact that this is little more than a fluffy throwaway piece about how the movie managed to be so accurate in presenting the work day of a weather reporter.
"Atmospheric Pressure: The Style and Palette" (9 min.) This is the key piece here, a detailed discussion of the film's complex photography and set design. The look of this film is as important as the acting or writing, and this feature reveals subtle efforts to set the tone of the story and to add a pinch of symbolism. It's a quickie film school for those who want to learn how the little touches can affect the big picture. I'm now unable to watch the movie the same way, as I'm now constantly on the lookout for such touches.
"Relative Humidity: The Characters" (19 min.) This would be worth watching had so much information not already been given in previous featurettes. (If you're watching these straight through, you should be growing tired of seeing the tartar sauce and "Spritz Nipper" scenes.) There's little to learn about the Dave character that is by now still not discussed. We do get new, closer looks at the supporting roles, but the whole thing still feels like a "Cliff's Notes" rundown of the film.
"Trade Winds: The Collaboration" (15 min.) Or, "Sorry We Haven't Talked About You In Any of the Other Featurettes." Craig Wood gets to chime in about his editing choices, Hans Zimmer gets to ramble about his musical stylings, and everyone else gets to yammer on about how much they love to work with Verbinski. There's some nifty stuff to be found here, but there's also a whole lot more of that dreaded back-patting, too. Oh, and there's that tartar sauce scene again.
Also included is the film's theatrical trailer, as well as a handful of trailers for other Paramount releases; all are presented in either full screen or non-anamorphic widescreen. And once again, the first thing we get when we hit play is the "You wouldn't steal a car…" anti-piracy PSA. It's skippable, but it's still obnoxious.
While the extras are a bit too flat at times (oh, how I'd love to have gotten a commentary from Conrad and Verbinski), the movie itself is a powerhouse, and its presentation here is as top notch as one would want. Highly Recommended.