Cold in July Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by IFC Studios
Directed by Jim Mickle
Written by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale 2014
2014, 109 minutes, Rated R
Theatrical release on May 23rd, 2014
Michael C. Hall as Richard Dane
Sam Shepard as Ben Russel
Don Johnson as Jim Bob Luke
The poster for Cold in July is misleading. Sam Shepard, Michael C. Hall, and Don Johnson are lined up in the front of a pickup, Sam and Michael looking dark and brooding as they stare into to the distance; Don offering a too-cool smirk as he looks through the windshield. There’s a badass aloofness to the trailer as well, not at all reflected in a deeply emotional and beautiful subtle film that asks what lengths we will go for our children.
Michael C. Hall plays Richard, a frame shop owner in Texas circa 1980. He has a frustratingly energetic little boy named Jordan and a loving, albeit stern wife in Ann (played by Vinessa Shaw buried under shoulder pads). One night an intruder breaks into the Dane household and Richard, in a panic, shoots him dead in their living room. Making his statement to the police, he is told he shot a wanted felon named Freddy Russel. Praise is heaped on an uncomfortable Richard, who in remorse visits Freddy’s funeral. There he meets Freddy’s recently paroled father Ben, who is not pleased that his only child met a gruesome fate. Ben terrorizes Richard and his family immediately and only ends when Richard discovers the police have been lying to Ben, to him, and maybe to everyone.
I won’t say anymore because you must see this movie.
The acting is phenomenal. Sam Shepard is a master minimalist. He knows the art of stillness, and as Ben it lends itself to intimidating those around him but also conveying devastation when he finally learns what has become of his estranged son. Don Johnson has never been better; his trademark smirking smile plays well when it needs to but he offers beautiful vulnerability and presence in this movie. Michael C. Hall holds his own against these legends, dragging us through the terrifying moments where death is certain but somehow through stupid luck you come out the other side.
Cold in July offers so much to consider: the stigma of being a businessman in a town where violence is lauded, the simultaneous aggravation and wholehearted devotion of being a parent, the sense that we are all waiting for that one big something to happen in our otherwise ordinary lives.
Jim Mickle directs this superbly crafted story with an eye for subtlety, laying on each of these layers with skill and balancing them all without tipping the scales away from the taught pacing. Mickle’s attention to detail is superb. In every set there is nothing out of place with a 1980s motif. The hair, the clothes, those ugly shoulder pads, the over the top “brand new” cell phone: not a thing doesn’t speak to the time and story. A few coffee stirrers tied into the shape of a giraffe and given to a child tell a history of a father’s love for his son. Hall wears the exact same t-shirt (or a set of t-shirts cut meticulously with the same holes) over the course of three scenes.
Cold in July is a masterpiece of acting, storytelling, directing, cinematography, and loving your work. Go see it now.