A juicy thriller is quite rare these days, and "Cold in July" offers a riveting foray into an everyman situation with a sterling cast of distinctive characters.
The time is 1989 in a small Texas town. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) is awakened when his wife hears noises, and he discovers a burglar. He nervously takes aim with a pistol, and shoots the thief, dead. A split-second decision that will change his life. Obviously shook up, the frame shop owner, his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) and their little boy must now fear for their safety.
Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), the father of the intruder appears, seeking revenge. And thus begins an explosive, unpredictable turn of events that ratchets up the suspense, and takes surprising twists.
With a convincing twang and in-vogue mullet, Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") is admirable as the ordinary guy plunged into a dark crime world. He's fortunate to have such exceptional character actors -- real man's man Sam Shepard and dandy Don Johnson -- share screen time.
They make quite a fascinating trio, and that propels this mysterious tale.
Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, turns up as Ben's estranged son Freddy.
The 1989 time frame enhances the film's lived-in setting, with video stores and phone land lines crucial to the story.
Steeped in terrific atmosphere, the film hooks you from start to finish. Director Jim Mickle ("We Are What We Are") confidently tells this pulpy adaption of Joe Lansdale's novel, keeping the plot moving and clear. He co-wrote it with Nick Damici and the author, and their script has a refreshing, uncluttered, economical style.
The film was nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, and you can see its arthouse appeal, but I hope it gets a broader audience -- it is on Video on Demand, too.
What Doesn't Work
Of course with a stimulating story, you want more. You want more answers, more snappy repartee. And it does get gory and gruesome near the conclusion.
3 stars out of 4
Director: Jim Midici
Starring: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Wyatt Russell
Rated: Not rated but for mature audiences