Cold in July Review

Posted: May 31, 2014 in Action, Reviews, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cold-In-July-2Jim Mickle and Nick Damici.

Remember these names. Write them down if you need to. Set up a Google alert. The pattern of cinematic excellence these two have established warrants constant attention for what will come next from the duo. Cold in July, the fourth feature film film from this creative team, is a solid kick in the balls of conventional fare, a tricky, tough, violent carnival ride put together by a couple of carnies whom you just can’t trust to have followed the safety code.

Mickle is the director, and he shares the screenwriting credit with Damici, who also has a significant supporting role in the film. The two previously teamed up on Mulberry St., Stake Land, and We Are What We Are. The last in that trio was a Southern gothic look at cannibalism through the prism of religious belief. We Are What We Are is a difficult film to like, although an easy one to admire. That is not the case with their latest effort. Cold in July is terrific, edge-of-the-seat stuff. Mickle and Damici’s first step outside the horror genre shows they have the chops to pull off action, thriller, noir, and black comedy  – in this case, all at once.

The excellence starts with a screenplay that defies your expectations at every plot point. You’re sure you’ve seen this all before, and you know what’s coming next, but you’re wrong. While you’re asking what just happened, the movie has zoomed off wildly in another direction. With a killer script in hand, Mickle and Damici then secured the perfect lead actors to make it happen. Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson may seem more like the odd squad than a dream team, but they complement one another perfectly and create a memorable screen chemistry.

It’s East Texas, 1989. Why? Why the hell not? Don’t ask too many questions. Just take your sense of disbelief, whack it with a baseball bat a couple of times, secure it in old footlocker, and throw it in the pond by the abandoned cabin. Nice guy Richard Dane (Hall) is woken by his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw perfectly playing the same role of beautiful spouse of American Everyman that she portrayed in Things People Do) in the middle of the night. Dane does the necessary: he takes out the properly secured handgun, loads it, and shakily proceeds downstairs to confront an intruder. Things go wrong, a shot is fired, and the former Dexter star is somewhat ironically shown scrubbing blood splatter from the walls.

A sympathetic police detective (Damici) walks Dane through the judicial process, and then casually mentions that the father of the would-be burglar has just been released from prison. That would be Ben Russell (Shepard), the original hard case, and you settle in for a Cape Fear revenge flick with the ex-con stalking the nice family, but that’s hardly even the jumping off point here. One twist leads to another, and before you know it, private investigator Jim Bob Luke (Johnson) is on the scene to help straighten things out.

Hall shows he can make the jump from cable TV to the big screen. Johnson, after settling for table scraps in Django Unchained, is given a meatier role here and makes a feast out of it. Yet, it is Shepard who dominates. He pulls off dialogue here that would prompt inadvertant laughter from a lesser actor. He is pure menace at first, but gradually comes to represent a different type of purity over the course of the film.

Cold in July may not make a lick of sense at times, but it’s good, hard fun for the less squeamish among us.

Four stars.

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