Film Reviews

COLD IN JULY

By • May 27th, 2014 •

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In the darkness of the pre-dawn hours, an unlawful break-in will shatter the sanctity of home and destroy a man by sunrise. That man will die a death destined for rebirth as a stronger and more courageous soul. Richard Dane, husband and father with one son, picture framer by trade, residing in a small Texas town, will find his true-self. As with any metamorphosis, the process itself is painful.

A thief in the night and slip of a finger is followed by the deafening crackle of thunder from a chamber made to deter the defiant in a stand your ground situation. Moments earlier, frazzled by fear and uncertainty, gauging the possibility of danger from innocuous to grave, the tense Dane decidedly bears an arm to protect his family. It’s within these few moments of COLD IN JULY that Michael C. Hall masterfully portrays the everyman coursing through a gamut of emotions in a highly charged incident.

The script is from Joe R. Lansdale’s novel set back in the days of VHS. Along with media of terrible resolution is hair. If COLD IN JULY were not done so well, Michael C. Hall’s achy breaky mullet would be well worth the price of admission. As the common man is assaulted by the menaces skulking within the realm of criminality, the character’s emotional responses are honest and truthful. The plot twists are not preposterous as they usually are, wildly out of control, in so many films. Yet, a crime thriller would not exhilarate without unearthing the diabolical. The first two acts allow the viewer to savor the intricacies of character development and deplore those that must face the impending retribution during the third.

At the center of these strong characters is Richard Dane (Hall). He and his wife, victimized during the night, fall victim to the townspeople gossip, stares, and whispers either vilifying or supporting the shooting. They deal with the stress by bickering over a new couch. The original couch fell victim, too, as it lay a blood splattered biohazard in the front of the house awaiting the trash collection as the couple did their own crime scene clean-up. Paranoia sets in as they install bars on their home to live jailed in fear. The internal turmoil among the family unit is amplified by a new threat centered upon their child.

The strain etched itself into Dane’s face. The gentle timidly trigger-fingered small town anti-hero remains unsettled over the nonchalance and blasé attitude by the police who assure his vindication and exoneration in the shooting. Wrestling with emotions, his goodwill towards the post-mortem criminal who broke into his home furthers his continual confrontation with less savory characters. Hall’s reserved demeanor, facial subtleties, and outbursts, are all performed as a true master of the craft.

In a turn of circumstances, which includes a twist on the villain and damsel in distress on the train tracks, Dane’s alliance with an ex-con and a charismatic character of Texan bravado completes this trifecta. The two older men may be likened to horses that look as if they are ready to go out to pasture. Not so. The exterior has aged, but the fighting spirit within lives on. Much younger than the two, Dane is a child in a man’s world testing the bounds of his courage in this coterie ready to sally forth unraveling layer below layer of the underbelly where criminal and law become entangled.

As the intricacies of each character develops, they become embroiled into something unforeseeable. Sam Shepard’s role as tough as nails ex-con gives the role a bad-ass edginess. When introduced to this guy, you know he’s the dude that owns the Bad Mother Fucker wallet in PULP FICTION. The dynamic range that Shepard exhibits is compelling as his character learns damaging truths and must confront and deal with them in a gut wrenching manner.

When Don Johnson arrived in his red Cadillac and cowboy boots, females in the audience were tickled pink and cackled at his utterance of just single syllables. It is his character who offers some lighthearted relief although he is the bridge between the perception and the reality of the goings on. He is perfectly suited for the role as a happy-go-lucky suave cowboy with compassion and allegiance for a showdown in a Tex-Mex border town.

Nick Damici’s and Jim Mickle’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s novel COLD IN JULY should be recognized during awards season. In a society of filmmakers so preoccupied with effects-laden stories, it is a relief to watch a film where character matters. Jim Mickle has a limited director’s reel, yet his direction has a strong level of maturity. Hall, Shepard, and Johnson meshed so well, it was reminiscent of the chemistry between Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

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