Cold In July Review

Cold In July

I first heard of director Jim Mickle a few years ago, when his film Stakeland came out.

Whilst other movie fans at the time were preoccupied with Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson’s battling against zombies in a similarly-titled picture, Mickle was offering an altogether grittier take on a post-apocalyptic America. I was impressed.

I was just as impressed with his latest offering, an adaptation of Joe R Lansdale’s novella, Cold in July.

The film is a sort of Texas Noir, set in the late eighties and revolving around gentle picture-framer and family man Richard Dane, played by Michael C Hall.

Dane accidentally shoots dead a burglar one night, only to later attract the unwanted attentions of the burglar’s recently paroled father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard).

Dane’s family are caught in the crosshairs too, and it’s up to local cop Ray Price (played by co-writer and Mickle stalwart Nick Damici) to save them. Dane meanwhile is sucked further into a world of violence.

You’d think you could predict where the story is going to head from there. But you’d be wrong.

The plot is such a twisting, turning, shape-shifting beast, that it would be difficult to describe further without giving away its secrets.

Suffice to say, Mickle and Damici reportedly struggled with the adaptation, with the project in gestation for about seven years and seeing countless script re-writes.

The performances are faultless, which is a testament to the trio of main actors and to Mickle’s unflashy direction. Shepard, in particular, impresses with his subtle portrayal of a conflicted father. With the sparsest of gestures, Shepard effortlessly conveys the spectrum of emotions lying just beneath the surface.

Hall is good too in the role of Dane, ostensibly acting as the audience’s eyes and ears. His outstanding redneck mullet and ‘tache however fail to completely obscure his famous TV role: parts of the film end up feeling a little like ‘Dexter Begins’. You’ll see what I mean.

Oh, and I should mention that Don Johnson pops up somewhere along the way as a flamboyant pig farmer called Jim Bob.

His turn is particularly enjoyable, with Johnson managing to round out what could have just been a throwaway character.

Mickle brings his customary grittiness to proceedings, evoking the feel of a modern western, replete an OK-Corral style shootout and gunslingers of the good, bad and ugly variety.

As with any modern western, or indeed any film set in Texas of yesteryear, there is a decided ambivalence in the film’s attitude towards firearms.

Dane is initially horrified at his act of self-defence, shirking off the townsfolk’s hunger for the gory details, instead meekly insisting that his finger slipped.

But as the film progresses, Dane is inexorably drawn to a more violent way of life. By the end of the film, you realise he is a changed man, but is it for better or worse? The film never really opines.

The result is a captivating thriller that will leave you pondering long after you’ve watched it.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

June 2014