Review – Cold In July

It’s fitting that a director so steeped in genre fare should veer so spectacularly in style for his blood-soaked and blackly comic neo noir crime drama.

The shift in tone may not suit everyone's tastes, but Cold In July earns its plaudits with a well-told tale that's as solid as its leading trio

The shift in tone may not suit everyone’s tastes, but Cold In July earns its plaudits with a well-told tale that’s as solid as its leading trio

Jim Mickle’s back catalogue may fall firmly within the bracket of horror, but his films are rarely so black and white. His 2006 debut Mulberry Street is stripped back claustrophobic filmmaking with an edge, while his fang-tastic follow-up Stake Land (2010) is a mash-up of gothic vampire chiller, end-of-the-world drama and tobacco-chewing western.

His remake of the Mexican movie We Are What We Are (2013), meanwhile, may ostensibly be an oppresive horror flick, but is also soaked in religious satire.

An impulsive act has unexpectedconsequences for Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) in Cold In July

An impulsive act has unexpected consequences for Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) in Cold In July

Mickle once again reteams with co-writer Nick Damici for this adaptation of Joe R Lansdale’s novel which is three movies in one – part Coen-esque noir akin to Blood Simple or John Dahl’s Red Rock West; part comedy more befitting of Lansdale’s other big screen adaptation Bubba Ho-Tep (minus Elvis); and part comic book drama that puts the ‘graphic’ in graphic novel.

Michael C. Hall plays Richard Dane, an everyday guy who shoots dead an unarmed intruder in his home. While gaining a new-found respect among his redneck Texan townsfolk, Richard doesn’t count on the intruder’s jail-bird father Ben (Sam Shepard), who’s just been released on parole. Ben goes after Richard and his family in search of revenge, but neither one is prepared for what comes next.

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) in a rare moment of peace with wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) in Cold In July

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) in a rare moment of peace with wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) in Cold In July

Mickle diligently sticks to the novel’s late-80s setting, right down to Jeff Grace’s brilliantly suspenseful synth score that unapologetically lifts from John Carpenter’s best efforts.

Hall, who’s been playing a serial killer on cable television for the better part of the last decade, inhabits the role of a man whose initial shock and disgust at the act of violence he’s responsible for slowly gives way to a more disturbing familiarity and collusion. He also sports a haircut that only someone in 1989 Texas could, or should have.

Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) and Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson) go hunting in Cold In July

Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) and Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson) go hunting in Cold In July

Cold In July‘s excellent opening act (which the rest of the film falls short of matching) sets an uneasy tone as Richard and his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) struggle to come to terms with the consequences of a home invasion that has a shocking ending and an unwanted impact on their otherwise stable family life. The introduction of Shepard’s grizzled and cold-eyed Ben cranks up the tension before the film takes an intriguing and light-hearted turn half way through when Don Johnson’s colourful private eye Jim Bob Luke turns up in a red Cadillac with bull horns on the radiator and a ‘RED BTCH’ license plate.

Old acquaintances with a mutual taste for violence they may be, but Jim Bob and Ben are chalk and cheese in their demeanour. Ben is the sort of bottled up sociopath Shepard has excelled at in his autumn years, while Johnson’s more flamboyant, stetson-wearing wannabe cowboy is similar to the charismatic roles he’s played of late in the likes of Django Unchained and HBO’s Eastbound And Down.

Sandwiched between these elder statesmen is Hall, who more than carries his own in a role that demands a subtle character shift and a growing intimacy with the way of the gun.

The shift in tone may not suit everyone’s tastes, but Cold In July earns its plaudits with a well-told tale that’s as solid as its leading trio.

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8 comments

  1. mikeyb @ screenkicker · August 13, 2014

    Great review mate, i loved the film and I actually really enjoyed the way it would totally switch gears a few times.

    It also made me scared to buy baseball dvds online 😉

    • Three Rows Back · August 13, 2014

      Cheers my man. Yeah, that baseball bar scene was messed up.

  2. ruth · August 13, 2014

    Hi Mark! Sounds like a good one but perhaps a bit too violent for my taste? I actually haven’t seen anything by Michael C. Hall but seems that he’s a pretty charismatic actor.

    • Three Rows Back · August 13, 2014

      May be a little too violent, yeah. Hall’s a fine actor, you should check him out in the HBO show Six Feet Under if you get the chance.

  3. Tom · August 15, 2014

    Very solid review buddy, Cold in July just passed right by me! I’m not sure if it came through Knoxville or what but I was hoping to catch it at some point. Guess I’ll just have to sit on my hands and patiently wait, but intriguing reviews like these don’t make that an easy task.

    • Three Rows Back · August 15, 2014

      Cheers mate. There are better films out there but it’s solid enough. Best to wait until it turns up on Netflix.

  4. jackdeth72 · August 16, 2014

    Hi, Three Rows:

    It’s great to see Joe R. Lansdale getting some cinematic respect!

    Been a fan of his since his early ‘Drive-In” horror/sci-fi/satire and Living Dead/Zombie tales of the 1980s.

    Intriguing cast, to boot!

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