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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Cold in July
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by Jay Seaver

"One hot thriller."
5 stars

Joe R. Lansdale is a writer much beloved by crime & horror fans but who has never really broken through to mainstream recognition the way contemporaries like Steven King and Clive Barker have; Jim Mickle is an independent genre filmmaker who has gone from doing impressive things with few resources to making just plain great films quickly, but it doesn't seem like he and co-writer Nick Damici have broken through either. It's therefore kind of natural for Mickle & Damici to adapt a Lansdale novel, and not entirely surprising that the resulting movie is a terrific thriller that may get lost in the cracks because people don't know that they should absolutely seek it out.

It starts in nailbiting fashion, as Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw) hears a noise in the middle of the night and wakes her husband Richard (Michael C. Hall), who nervously gets out his father's gun to investigate. In the aftermath, Sheriff Ray Price (Damici) assures Richard that he's unlikely to be charged, but also tells him that the boy's father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is a nasty sort just out on parole himself.

Mickle is a great director in part because he has a penchant for moving quickly even while he's lingering on important and interesting details. That opening sequence, for example, is a nigh-perfect example of how to hook an audience with action while simultaneously taking the measure of a character. There's not a single part of the fallout from that beginning that isn't interesting and well-presented, which means that when the movie gets to a terrific siege, it feels climactic even though there is actually a fair chunk left to unfold. There are some bumps at that point, but it's not long before things are rolling in efficient fashion once more , right up to the harrowing finish.

Michael C. Hall is great from the start to that finish. This sort of thriller is at its best when its protagonist, rather than being surprisingly cool under fire, is actually flat-out terrified, and from the moment when we wonder whether Richard can even load his revolver because his hands are shaking so badly, it's very easy to identify with Richard as probably handling things as well as we could at our best, rather than how we like to think we would (indeed, everyone involved seems determined to take a plot that could play into "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" rhetoric and point out how sickening the reality is to people who are not big-talkers or maniacs). For all that Richard is bearded and kind of beefy, he's presented doing things that might read as kind of feminine, although Hall is smart enough not to play into that too much or get near the territory that might make Dane a comedic figure. He's just the proper mix of nervousness and principled determination. It's a beautifully hidden bravery, really.

The rest of the cast is pretty good as well. Vinessa Shaw hits just the right note as Ann, superficially looking a little tougher than Richard to the point where they can be somewhat combative, but never enough to make either look bad. Sam Shepard has aged into being a natural fit for this sort of wiry, weathered antagonist, and he makes . Ben all the more intimidating for never actually seeming unhinged. Co-writer Nick Damici takes what could become a customary role as the local cop because it more or less fits him like a glove, while Don Johnson and Wyatt Russell carve out memorable parts despite being relatively late arrivals.

Mickle guides them all assuredly, even through scenes that might seem odd, like cleaning the blood out of one's living room. The movie alternates between stomach-tightening tension and intense action, sometimes quick and shocking enough that it takes the brain a few moments to process what it's just seen. The period elements are handled with enough restraint that it doesn't feel like they're just trying to avoid cell phones. One nifty surprise is the soundtrack; rather than the Texas twang one might expect, Mickle and composer Jeff Grace go for 1980s synth with a nicely unnerving bassline.

With any luck, this won't be the last Lansdale adaptation Mickle & Damici are involved in - they're working on a television series based on the author's Hap & Leonard novels. For now, this one is extremely satisfying, a down and dirty thriller that should impress everyone that sees the film, whether they've heard of the folks behind it or not.

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originally posted: 05/25/14 12:51:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/27/20 Jack Sommersby The best film of 2014. A masterpiece and genuine work of art. 5 stars
2/16/18 Langano Not bad. 3 stars
5/25/14 Steve C Just saw this. Very good thriller and especially loved the score . 4 stars
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  23-May-2014 (R)
  DVD: 30-Sep-2014


  DVD: 30-Sep-2014

Directed by
  Jim Mickle

Written by
  Jim Mickle
  Nick Damici

  Michael C. Hall
  Don Johnson
  Sam Shepard
  Vinessa Shaw
  Nick Damici
  Wyatt Russell

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