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Cold in July


Stars: Michael C Hall, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, Wyatt Russell, Don Johnson, Brogan Hall, Lanny Flaherty

Director: Jim Mickle

This dark thriller whose key ingredient – two leads best known for their work on television - harks back to the halcyon days of the second feature, chose a perfect week to be well reviewed since, in Britain, it was up against Jon Favreau’s self-congratulatory selfie em>Chef, Walking on Sunshine, a musical that makes Mamma Mia resemble Ingmar Bergman at his most caustic and Arthur and Mike, Colin Firth’s embarrassing and unfortunate latest choice of a starring vehicle.

Result? Cold in July which, on analysis, is essentially an excellent ‘B’ film with ‘A’ movie pretentions, and has been hailed in many critical quarters as rather more impressive than it actually is.

Using the novel by Joe R Lansdale as a template, co-writer (with Nick Damici) and director (an aspirant auteur?) Jim Mickle creates a convincing pre-cellphone picture of East Texas in 1989 where small-town resident Michael C Hall becomes a local hero ("He's a wanted a convicted felon. You're an upstanding citizen without a record. Sometimes the good guy wins.") when he shoots the man who breaks into his home.

Unfortunately, the dead man’s ex-convict father, played by grizzled Sam Shepard, turns up seeking revenge and the plot thickens like a coagulating pool of blood (there’s plenty on show in the movie) as the story adds corruption, a mutilated corpse and the ‘Dixie Mafia’ on the way to the grueling and violent climax…

Shepard is genuinely chilling and Hall, switching from killer in Dexter to victim here, creates a credible everyman forced into violent action with the convincing lack of charisma the role essentially demands. But it’s his fellow small screen icon Don Johnson who makes the most memorable impression when he turns up sporting red shoes and a car to match and stealing his every scene with a wittily overdone portrait of a pig farmer cum private eye. He is patently enjoying himself and, happily, his self-pleasure is contagious.

Mickle (whose homage to the genre is neatly underlined by a shot of a drive-in cinema) largely ignores logic in favour of mounting suspense and violence.

It’s a good film and entertaining on its own terms, but not so good that it would merit a place among film noir classics.

Alan Frank

USA/France 2014. UK Distributor: Icon. Colour.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 29 Jun 2014