Starring: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shephard, Don Johnson
After accidentally shooting an intruder in his family home, Richard Dane (Hall) is hailed by some as a hero for protecting his home and killing someone who is a wanted felon. However the guilt haunts Richard and this is only worsened by the deceased’s father Russel (Shephard) -a dangerous man who has just been released from prison- seeking vengeance on Richard and his family. However, further developments reveal that both men are part of something much darker and bigger.
Writing a synopsis for Cold in July is a tricky task; it is a film that takes so many tonal and narrative shifts that it is actually quite difficult to decipher how much of the plot can be revealed before entering spoiler territory. This film is without doubt a strange beast; just when it seems to be going in a certain direction it suddenly switches genre or tone completely. Though Cold in July most definitely cannot be described as predictable, constantly having the rug being pulled from under the feet of us and the characters serves as both compliment and detriment to the overall film.
Starting off as what seems to be a meditation on the morality and consequences of taking someone else’s life, Mickle creates a genuinely tense atmosphere. The intensity and intrigue only increase when Sam Shephard turns up and sets the foundations for what seems to be a really intriguing and atmospheric thriller. I was admittedly wondering how they would fill the 109 minutes; well I certainly got my answer! Further developments lead to a conspiracy thriller, posing some questions about the police and the seemingly key character of a local Sherriff (Nick Damici). Then however Don Johnson turns up playing a Texan conforming to all the stereotypes and things start to get slightly ridiculous, coincidental and contrived. Oh, and the local Sherriff I mentioned? May as well forget all about him, the film certainly does!
With his previous films, Jim Mickle has proved he can create a great sense of atmosphere and there is no denying that from a visual point of view Cold in July is very well made. Likewise it is very well acted; Sam Shephard is a great screen presence and a leaner looking Don Johnson is very charismatic. While Michael C. Hall (complete with dodgy 80s mullet) plays an everyman that is getting increasingly out of his depth very convincingly, even if the narrative seems to try it’s hardest to make his character’s journey as unbelievable as possible.
Hall’s character’s motivations for doing what he does is one of the many frustrating aspects of the film; at one point his reasoning is the core focus of what drives the narrative, but is then completely forgotten about. Almost feeling like a series of vignettes, parts of the narrative are driving by intriguing questions that are at one stage treated as essential to the plot, but then are carelessly and instantly forgotten about when the plot wants to focus on something else.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with a film posing more questions than answers, but it does need the substance to justify it. However, though Cold in July hints at examining some interesting themes of morality, vengeance and the gut wrenching lack of glory from taking the life of another, the plot which seems like a series of loosely connected individual stories seems like it is in too much of a hurry to get to its next point in the story and ultimately feels rather hollow, and as I have already said, frustrating.
It is at this point in the review that I would describe an ultimately quite silly film such as Cold in July as ‘forgettable’, however it actually lingers in the memory, but only because you will be trying to figure out what type of thriller you have actually just watched. There is no doubt that Mickle is a talented filmmaker who makes films how he wants to, and there is obvious signs of him having a masterpiece in him, Cold in July is not that film. It is never less than watchable, with the cast doing a great job (particularly the charismatic Johnson), but it is ultimately too ludicrous in terms of the sudden plot shifts to be taken particularly seriously.
A strange, strange film; Cold in July is as entertaining as it is frustrating. This silly thriller will keep you guessing, but only because of the sudden genre shifts and a lack of care for coherent storytelling.