Home invasion and self-defense are pretty common in our society and those involved all have many different outcomes. People don’t often want to kill an intruder, but they may just have to in order to protect the ones they love. There’s a lot of internal turmoil after the incidents, but we never read about that. It never makes the big news and we often don’t see the aftermath of the incident and then people move on. What if the stakes only grew higher after the incident? How can you assure your safety?
Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) is a picture framer by day and a timid family man by night. His wife (Vinessa Shaw) and son are his pride and joy and he does everything he must to keep them safe and sound. In the middle of the night, an intruder wanders into the Dane’s household and a frightened Richard creeps quietly through the hallway, gun drawn and nerves taking over. When the clock strikes on the hour, Richard has a knee-jerk reaction and pulls the trigger, killing the burglar right on the spot. Shaken-up and afraid, Richard seeks the help of Officer Ray Price (Nick Damici), who assures Richard that the burglar’s father won’t be a threat, despite just being granted parole. Filled with guilt, Richard attends his accidental victim’s funeral and comes face-to-face with his father Russel (Sam Shepard).
Russel, from the get-go, has a menacing calmness to his character and his unsettling remarks about Richard’s son prompt Richard to take precautionary measures to protect his family. With break-ins and stalking taking place, the police go to extreme lengths to capture Russel and eliminate him from the picture. However, things take a turn for the odd when lies and unnecessary violence bring Richard and Russel together. On top of all that, a Houston Private Detective by the name of Jim Bob (Don Johnson) teams up with Richard and Russel to get to the bottom of what’s really going on in this East Texas town.
Cold In July manages to fit multiple styles of film-making into one, crazy and tense film. With twists and turns coming from every which way, you’re always on your toes and you’re never sure of what’s coming next. All three of the leads do a great job with showcasing their characters and their development and they carry this story to the darkest of places. For me, I really loved the thematic elements that this film plays off of and the different directions it takes, as everything is explained with detail and makes sense in the end. Accompanied by a riveting score, Cold In July manages to hit most nails right on the head.
Michael C. Hall, notoriously known as Dexter to his loyal supporters, gives a very powerful story that’s composed of fear and resilience. Though he’s not the most courageous of characters, his love and care for his family is what drives him to make those hard decisions. Hall evokes a lot of emotion and it’s really interesting to watch his character’s moral contemplation, especially in tense situations. What I loved best about his character, is the fact that he’s representative of those who are forced to live with making a mistake that comes to haunt them for a long time to come. Hall does a fantastic job of showing that remorse, even when he knows what he did was best.
Sam Shepard has been ramping up his performances lately and here, he gets to walk the line between menacing and tortured. As the father of a murdered son, Shepard doesn’t show much pain, but he takes out his anguish on Hall’s family. His stalking and harassing proves to be creepy and effective, as the whole town begins to hunt him down for some reason. When we discover what’s really going on, his character shifts his attitude and we start to feel for him. We enjoy watching him interact with Hall, but more so with Johnson. To clarify, Don Johnson is the scene stealer all throughout this film and he brings comedy and suspense to the table. All three of the men work wonderfully together and they each bring their own motivations and skills to this film.
Director Jim Mickle has a knack for creating a suspenseful world with a lot of dark undertones present throughout every aspect of the film. He creates a lot of engrossing tracking shots that, paired with the noir-like music, make your hair stand up and that have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation. Mickle’s use of color and sound effects put things into the character’s perspective and those scenes are stunning. The element of surprise is Mickle’s greatest ally and he always has you guessing where the story is going to go. He adapted this film from the novel of the same name (written by Joe R. Lansdale) and he brings pulp-noir to a small Texas town in spectacular fashion.
While this film manages to maintain a high level of suspense and shock-value, the end resolve is all too predictable. It gets easier to uncover what’s really going on as the film progresses and the final act, while action-packed and awesome, doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. There are also a few sub-plots in this film that don’t entirely make sense, or aren’t entirely elaborated upon. With some underdeveloped characters, Cold In July also doesn’t spend enough time setting up its bad guys and their story. It’s not a huge deal, but it would have aided the story a bit more.
There’s something about these indie films that take place in Texas this year… So far, I’ve yet to see a bad one and Cold In July is certainly the most intriguing of the bunch. Its ability to balance multiple genres and create amazing tension is what sets it above many of the films this year. I loved the diversity of the characters and the actor’s performances are certainly the selling point. It was awesome to see Michael C. Hall excel in a role that doesn’t require him to be a murderous creep and he proves that his acting range is far greater than most thought. I gotta give it to Don Johnson though, because he really makes this film and entertaining watch, not that it wasn’t before though. If you like interesting stories that manage to break away from convention and utilize the effects of different genres and sounds, you’ll have a marvelous with Cold In July.
Cold In July Trailer