Film of the Week review and trailer: Cold in July

Michael C Hall, known for his award winning TV role in Dexter, as Richard Dane in Cold in July. Michael C Hall, known for his award winning TV role in Dexter, as Richard Dane in Cold in July.

Thursday, June 26, 2014
5:58 PM

Based on the novel by Joe R Lansdale, Cold In July is a gripping thriller about a family man, who is unwittingly drawn into a deadly conspiracy after an uncharacteristic act of violence.

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Cold in July scene (film certificate: 15)Cold in July scene (film certificate: 15)

Expertly constructed by writer-director Jim Mickle, who co-wrote the script with Nick Damici, it’s a grimy and blood-spattered portrait of the secrets and lies that fester in small communities, and the lengths a good man must go to protect his family.

Richard Dane (Michael C Hall finally free of his award winning TV role of Dexter) lives with his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) and young son Jordan (Brogan Hall). Late one night, she wakes to sounds in the living room and Richard quietly loads the gun he keeps in the bedroom.

Nervously, he creeps down the corridor and shoots dead an intruder in the darkness. Sheriff Ray Price (Nick Damici) assures Richard that he did nothing wrong and discloses that the intruder was a wanted man with a long history of felonies.

However when, at the start of the film, an ordinary family guy shoots a burglar, any cinema audience knows that there will be consequences.

These initially appear to come in the form of the burglar’s father, a known felon who has just been released from prison and we sit back in expectation of a family in peril tale.

Fortunately, this adaptation has a lot more to offer than that. It is a very slippery customer: the moment you think you have it pegged, it’ll slide over and take a completely unforeseen direction.

Richard is haunted by his actions and he crosses paths with the dead man’s father Ben (Sam Shepard). These two strangers are slowly drawn into a terrifying game of cat and mouse with people on both sides of the law.

There is a trade-off that the audience needs to make to fully appreciate the film. It offers considerable tension and mystery, sharp thrusts of humour and darkness, and a trio of star turns.

In return, you have to accept a plot that relies on coincidence and improbability far more than you’d expect of a thriller of this pedigree.

Richard starts out as a mild-mannered everyman who is shocked and disgusted after taking a life but, over the course of an hour and three quarters, becomes something quite different. It is a doodlebug of a character arc but the movie doesn’t offer up any explanation for it and Hall’s performance doesn’t externalise these changes.

The three stars work together a treat. Hall isn’t spelling anything out for us, but we go with him. Now in his 70s, Shepard has his growly old man act all worked out. And Don Johnson, in a showy scene-stealing role as a private detective, has the grace not to overdo it.

One of the film’s best assets is a score by Jeff Grace that apes those of classic John Carpenter. Mickle has previously made Stake Land and We Are What We Are and, so far, seems to specialise in making films that are uneven, not entirely satisfying, yet memorable.

(*** rated 3 stars)

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