VOD film review: Cold in July
Don Johnson's film-stealing Jim Bob9
Matthew Turner | On 23, Oct 2014
Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Michael C Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, Wyatt Russell, Brogan Hall, Lanny Flaherty
A prime slice of Texan noir, director Jim Mickle’s fourth collaboration with co-writer Frank Damici is adapted from a novel by Joe R. Lansdale and set in 1989, the year the novel was published. Michael C. Hall (TV’s Dexter) stars as picture framer and family man Richard Dane, who hears a noise coming from his living room one night, nervously goes to investigate and ends up accidentally killing an intruder after being startled by a chiming clock. Though the police detective (Damici) assigned to the case dismisses the shooting as self-defence, Dane feels unnerved by his actions and things only get worse when he learns that his victim’s father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is a convicted felon who’s just been paroled and is likely to be seeking vengeance.
To say any more would risk spoiling some of the pleasures of the plot. Suffice it to say that things are not quite what they seem and the story takes some decidedly unexpected turns, with Mickle and Damici gleefully subverting genre expectations at every opportunity.
The film also works as an intriguing study of machismo and violence: mild-mannered Dane is taken aback when he’s heartily congratulated by the local townsfolk, most of whom remark “I didn’t know you had it in you”, as they slap him on the back (their criticism is implied). By the same token, there’s an underlying sense that Dane is invigorated by his taste of violence, which accounts for how easily he’s drawn into what happens next. (To that extent, the film would make an excellent companion piece to David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, which explores several of the same ideas.)
Hall is superb as mullet-sporting everyman Dane, his eyes slowly opening to a brutal world of corruption and darkness. Similarly, Shepard is on top craggy form as Russell, exuding an air of menace that’s reminiscent of Robert Mitchum / Robert De Niro’s Max Cady in Cape Fear. However, the performance honours are roundly stolen by Don Johnson as sharp-dressed, smooth-talking private eye-slash-pig farmer Jim Bob Luke, who tears into the film in a bright red Cadillac, impacting both the tone and the plot to enormously entertaining effect. (He also gets all the best lines.)
Mickle’s direction is assured throughout, keeping tight control of various tones and imbuing the film with a suspenseful air of unpredictability. He handles the violent scenes in impressive fashion and there are several nice touches, ranging from the appealing title font to a stylish moment when a room is bathed in red, as a result of someone’s blood spattering across a light fitting. There are even some inspired running gags, such as Jim Bob being unable to get reception on his briefcase-sized “mobile” phone. On top of that, there’s a terrific synth score by Jeff Grace that lends the whole thing a suitable 80s, John Carpenter-like flavour.
In short, this is a superbly written and enjoyably pulpy neo-noir that delivers offbeat thrills and some blackly comic laughs, thanks to Mickle’s confident direction and a trio of terrific performances.