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Cold in July
Directed by: Jim Mickle
Starring: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson
Rated: R for Disturbing Bloody Violence, Language and Some Sexuality/ Nudity
Running Time: 1 h 49 m
TMM Score: 3.5 stars
STRENGTHS: Writing, Pacing
WEAKNESSES: Some Acting
After killing a home invader, Richard Dane and his family are terrorized by the dead intruder’s father, a violent ex con. But after the two stumble upon an unlikely discover, everything changes.
(SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW)
Richard Dane (Michael C Hall, Showtime’s “Dexter'“, “Gamer”) awakes to the sounds of someone rustling around in his house. At the urging of his wife, Dane gets up, takes his gun, and nervously walks down the stairs. More out of shock and instinct than actual intent, Dane fires his weapon and kills the intruder, then sinks to his knees, disturbed and remorseful for what he’s done. Police come and identify the man as Freddy Russell, a wanted criminal. They take the body away, Dane asks if he’ll have to do time for killing Freddy, but the sheriff tells him not to worry. It’s a cut and dry case; home invasion, Dane was standing his ground, and he’s done nothing wrong. Still sorrowful, Dane ends up going to Freddy’s funeral, and there he meets Freddy’s father, Ben (Sam Shepard, “Days of Heaven”).
Ben is less than sympathetic towards Dane, even after Dane explains the circumstances in which Freddy died. Ben threatens Dane’s family, specifically Dane’s young son. Dane, shaken, goes to the police and asks for protection. The police are at first skeptical to post guards at the Dane’s household, but after Ben breaks into their home and leaves bullets strewn across their son’s room, the police change their tone, and guards are placed around the house. After another brief but scary encounter, Ben is eventually apprehended and Dane comes to the station to close the case. While in the station, Dane comes across a wanted poster for Freddy Russell (the man he supposedly killed), but after inspecting the poster, Dane finds that the man he shot was not Freddy Russell. The police officers are dismissive of Dane’s claims, telling him not to worry about it; to go home and forget all about it. But Dane can’t do that, something isn’t right. Later, Dane sits outside the police station and watches as Ben is dragged out of the station and shoved into a vehicle before being brought to some train tracks in the country. The police officers that brought him there beat him up, inject him with drugs, and pour beer on him before leaving him for dead on the tracks. As the train pulls closer, Dane realizes that he can’t let Ben die, even if the man has threatened him. Dane pulls the man off the track, and together they enlist the help of a private investigator named Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson, “Brawl in Cell Block 99”) to look deeper into what’s really happening in the small Texas community. Actor Wyatt Russell (“Ingrid Goes West”) plays a part, but I wont say what part.
This film is incredibly well structured; it starts off with a (literal) bang and never really lets up until the credits roll. There’s never a dull moment in this film, tension builds with every twist, increasing momentum until the film’s bloody finale. As we approach the film’s end, and the darkness of what’s been happening is revealed, I felt a pretty intense wave of emotion wash over me, and that surprised me. This film has a b-movie feel at times; it’s gritty and intense, but it also has a surprising amount of soul. I wanted these characters to do what was right, because the bad guys absolutely deserved what was coming to them. When the climax came, I was amped, practically cheering.
The characters are believable; they’ve all got their flaws, and they all change throughout the film. The dialogue isn’t too lengthy or expositional- the characters sound like they’re rednecks just trying to figure out what’s going on, and that’s precisely what they are. Their characters wouldn’t wax poetic, so they don’t; they keep it simple. Some of them sound stupid, and others are a little more intelligent, but it’s the diverse voices that give the characters an extra layer of depth.
Academy Award Nominee Sam Shepard gives the best performance of the three lead actors, but he was also given the most to work with. Don Johnson is Don Johnson. He’s the same in pretty much everything: a cowboy, if I’ve ever seen one- but he certainly looked like he had a fun time with this role. Michael C Hall, an actor whom, at times, I have found really enjoyable and other times found really obnoxious, gave a completely average performance. His character does grow the most throughout his journey, but I could never quite buy the transformation he undergoes. In my opinion, Hall’s performances always suffer from his tendency to slip into melodrama, and his performance here is no different.
There were a couple cool things that the director, Jim Mickle, tried to do to jazz up the film a bit, and for the most part, it worked. There are some scenes where his attempt to add a little bit of style or subtext does come off as on the nose (or it just looks silly), but for the most part he does a really nice job making the film feel fresh. Mickle's film “Stake Land” (2010), is also worth checking out. It's not as good as this one (I'd give it a 3/5), but it's a pretty solid entry into the vampire genre with some memorable worldbuilding (it also lacks sparkling, bare-chested men, so that's a big plus in my book). And I've heard good things about “We Are What We Are” (2013) from fellow TMM reviewer Karl Nagurski.
This film is pretty dark, as a lot of crime thrillers tend to be, but the darkest parts of this film are, for the most part, implied, not shown on screen. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is violent, but a moral compass drives the characters. Even Ben, whom starts off the film as a seemingly bloodthirsty, mindless criminal, follows his conscious. This movie was way better than it had any right to be, and it’s one that his flown far underneath the radar. If you’re looking for something that’ll grab your attention and never let go, “Cold in July” might just be the film for you. As of March of 2018, the film is available to stream on Netflix.
As always, feel free to let me know what your thoughts were on the film! I'd love to hear from you!
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