COLDWATER (Vincent Grashaw). 104 minutes. Opens Friday (August 22). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
The first half of Coldwater isn't exactly distinguished, but it does what it does very well.
The directorial debut of Bellflower producer, editor and co-star Vincent Grashaw, the film establishes its premise quickly and without much fuss, dropping watchful inmate Brad (Ryan Gosling look-alike P.J. Boudousqué) into the eponymous juvenile rehabilitation facility.
Grashaw fills in the details of Brad's past with terse flashbacks while building tension in the present. Brad is surrounded by thuggish staff and trustees whose brutality may or may not be sanctioned by the camp's swaggering commandant (James C. Burns) - though whether he's unaware of their violations or just casually negligent is initially unclear.
As the film goes on, Grashaw and co-writer Mark Penny slowly escalate their battle-of-wills concept from psychologically credible to unsalvageably over-the-top, repeatedly twisting their narrative for cheap dramatic effect - especially once a time jump in the second half removes all ambiguity.
At that point, Coldwater turns into an overheated thriller, and the more complicated movie that might have been simply goes away.