DIR: Jim Mickle • WRI: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle • PRO: Rene Bastian, Adam Folk, Lizz Morhaim, Marie Savare • DOP: Ryan Samul • ED: John Paul Horstmann, Jim Mickle • MUS: Jeff Grace • DES: Russell Barnes • CAST: Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Michael C. Hall
Richard Dane is an average Joe Texan with a picture-perfect family he supports through his picture-framing business. So far, so ordinary but when he happens upon a thief in the night and decides to interrupt the robbery at gunpoint a simple slip of the finger causes him to paint a wall with the intruder’s brains. A rather ropey series of events are set in motion and all hell breaks loose in Jim Mickle’s ’80s-set throwback to the bullet-spraying, mullet-swaying heroics of Reagan-era Hollywood.
Richard (Michael C. Hall) and his ailing wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) comply with police procedure, brave face their gossiping neighbours and even clean up the blood-ridden crime scene but Richard can’t paint over the blood on his hands and becomes racked by guilt and confusion. An attempt to repent leads him to pay respect at the dead man’s funeral but he’s flanked by the recently paroled father of the deceased Bill Russell (Sam Shepard), whose coy remarks of Richard’s own son hints at his intent to collect an eye for an eye.
A tense intimidation game ensues as Richard fortifies his house and agrees to act as bait to lure Bill into police custody but the wily ex-con remains one step ahead and continues to elude their efforts. These scenes are a treat and Shepard excels as the menacing maniac despite the sometimes overly dramatic cinematography that belies its pulp novel origins resembling instead panels in a horror-themed comic book. Theatrics aside, the film succeeds in pulling you in but the intriguing cat and mouse set-up only performs as bait itself luring you into a very different movie 45 minutes in. The sheriff’s relation of the case as it unfolds doesn’t add up so Richard plays detective and employs his picture-framing skills to tail the police undetected only to uncover more dark twists and turns.
The dynamic shift in tone therein may have been enough to secure its selection at Sundance but instead of presenting something fresh the story simply steers from one generic set-up to another leaving what made the first half interesting in the dust. Initially, Hall’s everyman becomes famed and feared by the locals when the news of his accidental heroics hit the headlines and the emergence of Shepard’s antagonist and the threat he presents, if followed through, may have challenged how far Richard the civilian was willing to go to protect his family; case in point – the far superior Blue Ruin of mere months past. Unfortunately, Cold in July undoes any characterisation it invested in when Richard decides to embark upon a venture he has no motivation whatsoever to fulfil and, as such, wilfully puts his life and potentially the life of his family in danger.
All of a sudden, he’s comfortable carrying a gun and playing vigilante with the big boys in what boils down to a blood bath with shady sex traffickers. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with this departure and Don Johnson’s private eye-cum-pig farmer Jim Bob adds some welcome humour to the badassery – only it’s half of another movie entirely and in this instance two halves don’t make a whole. Director Jim Mickle has paved an interesting career path with genre-pushing films that aim to defy convention and while his latest delivers with memorable performances and solid direction the mismanaged motivations and uneven tone keep it from transcending its B-movie trappings.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Cold in July is released on 27th June 2014