It is rare in this era of formulaic filmmaking to have a movie keep the audience in their dark, taking them on a wholly unexpected journey. Which is one of many factors that make the neo-noir thriller ‘Cold in July’ (IFC Films) such a refreshingly exciting proposition.
The movie stars ‘Dexter’s’ Michael C. Hall as Richard Dane, a man who shoots an intruder in his home. But Hall isn’t playing a bloodthirsty psychopath this time around; he’s a devoted family man who is thoroughly disturbed at taking another man’s life.
But this goes beyond guilt; he’s terrified that the murdered man’s father is out to seek revenge for his son’s killer. The father is Ben Russell played by Sam Shepard, who exhibits equal menace and heartache.
‘Cold in July’ is a deceptive film; it sets the stage for a ‘Cape Fear’ style throw down between Russell and Dane’s family. Local Sheriff Ray Price (Nick Damici) offers the Dane’s protection, but the whole situation feels off to Dane, and the story then takes off on a completely different tangent, which brings into play Don Johnson, in fine form as Detective Jim Bob Luke, and a mystery that goes far beyond a botched home invasion (to reveal further would give away too much.)
Director Jim Mickle is becoming a director known for subversive takes on well-worn genres. His vampire thriller ‘Stakeland’ was just as much a coming of age tale as a horror film, and with ‘Cold in July’ (adapted from the novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale) he makes clear he’s not after the same pulp thrills and familiar plot beats from other noir thrillers.
That being said, there are some moments that certainly beg suspension of disbelief; many of these characters make very poor choices that would derail the film if not for the quality of the performances and strong direction.
Hall is great as per usual, even if his mullet is distracting (but hey, it did take place in the 80’s), and the John Carpenter style soundtrack by Jeff Grace further hammers home the era of questionable fashion and rising violent crime statistics.
‘Cold in July’ is currently playing in theaters as well as VOD. It’s Rated R and runs 100 minutes.
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