Cold in July, which is currently available OnDemand and also playing in select theaters, is a great film.
To a large extent, you’re simply going to have to take my word about that because to give too much away about this twisty and emotionally resonant thriller would be a crime. Quite frankly, I’d rather write a vague review than rob you of the pleasure of discovering this film’s secrets for yourself.
Here’s what I can tell you.
Cold In July takes place in east Texas and, speaking as a Texan, it manages to perfectly capture the odd mix of southern gothic and western stoicism that distinguishes that section of Texas from the rest of the state. Cold in July is one of the best Texas-set films that I’ve ever seen, one that is uniquely Texan and yet still accessible for those viewers who live elsewhere (except maybe for Vermont). Director Jim Mickle and cinematographer Ryan Samul fill Cold In July with hauntingly beautiful images of the landscape, capturing that unique Texas stillness that can be both tranquil and threatening at the same time.
Michael C. Hall plays Richard Dane, an ordinary guy who, at the start of the film, confronts and kills a burglar who has broken into his house. While nearly everyone else in town is impressed by Richard’s actions, Richard is haunted by them. While everyone else tells Richard that he should be proud for standing up against crime, Richard is obsessed with the bloodstains that now decorate his living room wall. Richard grows even more uneasy when the town’s police chief informs him that the burglar’s father has recently been paroled from Huntsville Prison.
When Richard goes to the burglar’s funeral, he meets the quietly menacing Ben Russell (Sam Shepard). Ben reveals that Richard killed his son and then goes on to suggest that maybe, in order to even the score, Ben should now go after Richard’s son. Even after the police agree to protect Richard and his family, it quickly turns out that Ben is a lot more clever than anyone realized…
And that’s all I can tell you about this film’s plot without spoiling the many twists and turns. I can, however, assure you that anything you may be assuming about this film or the relationship between Richard and Ben is probably incorrect. This is a film that starts out like an effective but standard thriller and then, about 30 minutes into the action, the story suddenly goes off in an entirely different direction. The fact that the film manages to pull off such a sudden shift in tone and plot is due to both Mickle’s confident direction and the excellent performances of Hall and Shepard.
I can also tell you that this film features a great and award-worthy supporting performance from Don Johnson. Johnson plays Jim Bob Luke, a flamboyant private detective who also owns a pig farm and drives a red Cadillac with vanity plates that read “RED BTCH.” Johnson brings a jolt of life to the film right when it most needs it. Jim Bob starts out as comic relief but, as the film progresses, Johnson brings a surprising amount of gravitas to the role until finally, Jim Bob is as much the moral center of the story as Tommy Lee Jones was in the thematically similar No Country For Old Men.
Finally, I can tell you that Cold In July is a violent film but it’s not the empty, consequence-free mayhem that you might expect to see in a thriller like this. It’s hard to explain without giving away too much of the plot but I would have to describe it as almost being “violence with heart.” Cold In July may be violent but it’s never mindless and that makes all the difference.
As I said, it’s difficult to review Cold In July because to go into too much detail would run the risk of ruining the film’s many surprises. So, instead, I’ll just say that Cold In July is one of the best films of the year so far.
It’s a film that you, as a lover of cinema, owe it to yourself to see.