COLD IN JULY Review

I've yet to see any of director Jim Mickle's previous work, but while Cold in July certainly presents an intriguing case it doesn't necessarily compel me to seek out with anticipation what the filmmaker does next. I was pulled into the world of 80's John Carpenter by the obvious aesthetic influences and soundtrack choices that give the film a certain edge of cool. There was also the fact I was just finishing Dexter when I first glimpsed the trailer and so I was immediately interested in anything else Michael C. Hall saw fit to dip his talents in. What is strange about the film though is that it so eagerly wants to be all of these different things that it ultimately fails to satisfy in any one goal. This incohesive palette is due both to the tone that is implied in certain moments, while the bigger issues are with the story that draws its influence from a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. The period details are on point, the first half of the narrative engages us completely offering an interesting perspective not often seen in movies labeled as action thrillers and its cast is more than up for the job as supporting players Sam Shepard, Don Johnson and Vinessa Shaw each contribute to positive attributes of the experience. Still, as it trudges through the middle section looking for a place to go and then only includes our intended hero in the finale out of a sense of obligation Cold in July feels more manufactured cool than effortlessly stylish. It is what could almost be called style over substance with the intention of that cliché being part of the fabric, but even that doesn't fairly sum up what the product as a whole delivers to its viewers, no matter where they fall in terms of love for cinema. To the untrained eye this is middle of the road action fare that suffices well enough in the blood and gun department that it works as a solid rental. To the more casual viewer this is something with ambition that clearly strikes a different chord than the more electronic, hard-boiled modern action thrillers we see in the cineplexes while to someone who is conditioned not only in the trends of studio and independent fare but to specific filmmaker style and the accomplishment of movies within their own intended goals this is a film that does indeed purchase a lot of ambition in the beginning, but doesn't evenly spend it throughout.

We meet the Dane family in the dark of night. Richard (Hall) is awoken by his wife Ann (Shaw), who hears someone breaking into their house. Richard cautiously grabs his gun and walks into the living room where he sees a silhouette with a flashlight and accidentally shoots the person. After the police arrive the intruder is identified as Freddy Russel, a wanted felon and the son of a paroled convict (Shepard). Understandably, Richard is shaken by the experience and can't seem to fully comprehend the fact it was his actions that took the life of another human being, extinguishing it with limited force and will. He goes so far as to attend the burial of his victim where he comes face to face with the paroled convict father, Ben. Making a somewhat passive threat towards Richard's son, Richard becomes alarmed and alerts the police that Russel is now after both him and his family. While nothing can initially be done given there is no evidence of wrongdoing things soon transpire that raise the situation to reasonable enough levels that a detective (Nick Damici) gets in on the investigation. The paroled Russel is indeed taunting the Dane's by breaking into their house, making more suggestive threats towards their only child and even hiding out in their house while never actually going through with anything. One might tend to believe from here that we would go through the ringer of trying to track down and catch Russel before he can make any moves that result in tragedy, but his capture is only the beginning. This scenario actually occurs quicker than we expect as it is after Russel is placed under arrest and Richard notices a wanted poster at the police station for a man named Freddy Russel who isn't the man he shot that things begin to get twisted.

It is understandable for Hall's Richard to be involved up to a certain point, even crucial, but there is also a moment when he walks away and should stay away. There is seemingly no reason for him to return to the narrative as his has run its course and we would be fine in accepting this while the movie could easily continue in the new direction it has laid out for us while simultaneously re-directing our expectations and delivery exactly what we expect from a flick like this. It would have been this change-up of direction that helped the movie to stand out, transitioning from one main character to another and from one internal conflict to a just as, if not more, complicated one. Instead, the film feels it's necessary to keep Hall's bumbling Richard Dane in on the dance as Shepard reunites with old war buddy Jim Bob (Johnson) to track down where his son (Wyatt Russell) might actually be hiding out and how he deals with him when he comes face to face with the man his son has become. All of these characters expectations for who people are supposed to be and where their lives were supposed to go are all subverted for the sake of drama and action yet the film itself stays on the road most traveled. Why the script can't seem to take any exception with the standard construct even though the narrative calls for it, I will never understand. What makes Cold in July a lot more fun than I've made it sound here though is the glee the actors are clearly taking in playing out these revenge fantasies in an age before technology made it nearly impossible to kill someone and get away with it. Shepard and Johnson are especially fun to kick back and enjoy here while Hall gauges Richards goofiness with just the right amount of credibility giving us an everyman quality I wasn't sure he was capable of after playing a serial killer for so many years.