Based on the novella by Joe Lansdale, Cold in July is an exceptional 2014 crime drama film directed by Jim Mickle. With its ’80s setting, striking visuals, revisionist narrative, and dark tone, inevitable connections will be made between it and No Country for Old Men. I loved both works and I can see similarities, but Cold in July ultimately establishes an atmosphere of its own and is perhaps less symbolic than Cormac McCarthy’s work. Mickle’s film is also compared to Blue Ruin, which was good but somewhat lacking (I hated the dweeb protagonist), which pursues a Hamlet-style story arch and considers the relationship to the southern U.S.
Starring Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame, the story tells about a man named Richard Dane who kills a home invader and incurs the wrath of the deceased’s ex-convict father Ben Russell (Sam Shepard). The father starts coming after Richard and his family, and then the storyline takes a turn when it seems that the authorities are trying to cover up the incident. Revelations abound when it is discovered that the dead home invader is actually alive and well and living under FBI protection. What the FBI doesn’t know, however, is that the not dead son is committing the most heinous acts of all.
After being lauded for his performance in Dexter, Hall really delivers with this role, which sees him become uncertain of what he is doing, unlike his Dexter character. In fact, the performances are great all around, and I was delighted to see Don Johnson (Miami Vice) appear halfway through the story as Jim Bob Luke. He basically plays himself, but he’s so charismatic and awesome that we are drawn to him. I would probably recommend the film just for Johnson alone. As I mentioned, it’s a true ’80s style neo-noir in the vein of Blood Simple and To Live and Die in L.A.. There is no CGI used and the film is very nostalgic (there’s a scene where they’re in a rental video store that made me miss the Blockbuster days a bit), and it’s a creative and entertaining story. The final showdown is a terrific payoff, reminiscent of the epic gundown in Rolling Thunder. There’s one scene where they watch a home movie that you won’t forget anytime soon.
There are only two issues that stop Cold in July from being an absolute classic, and they are mainly centred on the plot holes of the film. Firstly, the film never explains why the authorities try to get rid of Ben Russell and why they leave him for dead; we are only left for implications. Perhaps they are trying to protect the son, but it doesn’t add up. Secondly, Ben Russell’s transformation as a character through the film is a bit unconvincing. He comes across as an intimidating, obsessive stalker at the beginning of the film, but then he becomes this weird, grumpy sidekick later in the film. I didn’t really buy into his moral redemption, but I still liked his character.
The great acting, compelling storyline, fascinating characters, stirring atmosphere, gorgeous visuals, and sense of adventure and spark, however, ultimately redeem Cold in July from its slight flaws. It’s a great summer movie and most certainly the movie of the year. It’s refreshing, engaging, full of action and surprise, and not to be missed.