Cold in July (2014) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for disturbing bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 109 min.

Cast: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw, Wyatt Russell, Nick Damici
Director: Jim Mickle
Screenplay: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle

Review published June 5, 2014

Set in a small town in Texas in 1989, a mulleted Michael C. Hall (Kill Your Darlings, Paycheck) stars frame shop owner Richard Dane, whose life takes a permanent detour when he ends up killing an unarmed prowler in the middle of the night. When the perpetrator's father, Russel (Shepard, Out of the Furnace) , is paroled from prison, the guilt-riddled Dane begins to fear for his life and his family's safety, especially now that the vengeful felon is stalking him. However, something seems off in the investigation, and Dane isn't one to just let things go if they're not right and true.

Cold in July is adapted from the Joe R. Lansdale novel of the same name, with screenwriter credit going to director Mickle as well as Nick Damici, who has a substantial supporting role in the film as Sheriff Price. It starts off as a taut home-invasion thriller, and a pretty good one at that, until a twist develops that sees the story morph. That twist is the story's most interesting component, but what plays out afterward isn't as taut or as interesting, though it is much more colorful. It often plays like a film one might find in the 1980s, such as Blood Simple, Sharky's Machine, One False Move, Stick, and the like, and more than a passing resemblance to Scorsese's Cape Fear. Some will be reminded of the work of Elmore Leonard, who regularly would feature a few larger-than-life characters in a thriller that has a seedy-underbelly scenario, with Don Johnson getting the most flamboyant of roles as the pig-farming private dick -- he's a great character and portrayed with gusto by Johnson, but he feels very out of place in what is otherwise a straightforward and earthy suspenser.

Mickle's film is grisly, grim and quite violent, so brace yourself for a tip into the muck of Texas's grungier elements before it's all said and done, especially as the story devolves into a disheartening snuff-film subplot. As the implausibility factor begins to rise, so does the body count, and while we remain invested in what's going on sufficiently to retain the film's recommendation overall, the first half of this film certainly is where the lion's share of the momentum lies, while the latter feels like a story ripped from a poorly written pulp thriller.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo