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Cold in July - Review

Cold in July

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE mark of a good thriller is its ability to keep you guessing: Jim Mickle’s Cold in July does that in more ways than one and is a massively enjoyable, if increasingly twisted ride.

Based on Joe R. Lansdale’s Texas noir novel, this grips from the start, as Michael C Hall’s mullet-sporting family man Richard Dane shoots and kills an intruder in his home in Texas, in 1989, only to find the act provoking the ire of the victim’s ex-con father (Sam Shephard).

With the police keen to sweep the issue under the mat, however, Dane finds himself increasingly drawn into a messy criminal underworld involving corruption, prostitution and organised crime that finds him relying on some unlikely allies – including a pig farmer cum private detective (Don Johnson) – to survive.

Directed by Jim Mickle, who has previously impressed with his vampire genre subverter Stakeland Cold in July is a slick exercise in toying with audience perception that also tips its hat cleverly to some of the director’s own genre favourites and which boasts a trio of excellent central performances.

In terms of the plot, this thrives on knowing as little as possible going in, making the twists and turns all the more astonishing and the outcome of the dark journey difficult to predict.

En route, film fans may also enjoy the numerous homages that Mickle pays, whether stylistically nodding towards early Coens and David Lynch, as well as David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Scorsese’s Cape Fear – all of which are deliberate; or ensuring that his own distinct style also shines through. This is a major step up from Stakeland that underlines Mickle’s credentials as one of US independent cinema’s most intriguing new filmmakers.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s those performances. Dexter‘s Hall transforms himself once again as the everyman at the centre of the story, who is forced to travel his own dark path once he finds himself falling down the rabbit hole, while Shephard is typically excellent as the menacing father of Dane’s victim.

But it’s Johnson who really steals the show, his pig farmer turned detective a loud, brash, easy-to-love kind of guy that strides into the movie halfway through and really makes every subsequent scene his own. Johnson is in complete command of the material and clearly relishes the opportunity of hooking up with real-life friend Shephard in the scenes they share together.

Cold in July won’t be to every taste given the increasingly dark turns that it takes, the sudden – but extreme – outbursts of violence and the sometimes difficult to understand decision-making of Hall’s lead character.

But for those willing to take its journey and overlook its flaws, this is a formidable achievement that works just as well emotionally (for both its characters and its viewers) as it does on a thrill providing slice of pulp-fiction escapism.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 110 mins
UK Release Date: June 27, 2014