Wednesday, July 30, 2014

[Review] Cold in July

Cold in July, a Texas neo-noir set in the 80s, is drenched in seedy atmosphere and crap-stained colors. It's filled with pulpy direction by Jim Mickle, and some solid performances from Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson.

Within the first few seconds, Richard (Hall, or Dexter with a mustache and a mullet), and his wife, Anne (Vinessa Shaw), awake in the middle of the night and suspect a house intruder. Richard loads up a revolver and nervously blows the criminal's brains out in the dark. The next day, Richard is praised as hero, but he's not proud, and he realizes this event is going to stick with him in more ways than one. Paranoia and sleepless nights abound, especially when the father of the deceased man (played intimidatingly by Sam Shepard), indirectly threatens Richard's son. What follows is a bizarre web of crime, unpredictable twists, and heat-of-the-moment character studies.

The ugliness of the film is artfully shot, sometimes with horror-esque lighting. Along with the brooding visuals, the music has a significant impact on the mood. Richard and Anne scrub blood off of their mantle clock while soul song "Forgetting You" by James Carr loudly plays. It's a scene that might make Scorsese's eyebrows raise in excitement. Single, eerie piano keys raise tension as the camera slowly moves around corners, and the synth-driven music recalls the flair of 2011's Drive.

An introduction of a detective character named Jim Bob (Don Johnson) simultaneously helps and hurts the film. It helps because the guy is frickin' awesome and quite possibly the most interesting person in the story. It also allows some cartoony black comedy sneak in, but it almost entirely changes the direction and tone of the film, which would be fine if all of the initial tension and conflict weren't sucked out. Even some of the story's early setups and mysteries are left behind, and the narrative turns into a waiting game during a large portion of the midsection. It's a turn that's clumsily handled, but fortunately it all ends with one hell of a showdown. Seriously.


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