Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Cold in July (Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 23.06.2014

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Cold in July (Movie Review)

Cold in July (UK Rating: 15)

Film noir is having something of a revival among the American indie crowd. With last month's Blue Ruin and this week's Cold in July - released in cinemas around the UK on Friday, 27th June - dark blooding thrillers are being brought up to date by a new breed of directors.

Joel and Ethan Coen could never have imagined that their first film, the brilliant neo-noir, Blood Simple, could have cast such a long shadow. However, exactly 30 years since its release, its influence is felt more strongly than ever, with Jim Mickle's Cold in July a classic example.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Cold in July (Movie Review)

Everything changes with a single gunshot. Unassuming family man Richard (Michael C. Hall) confronts a burglar in his house on a hot summer's night and kills him, probably because of a sweaty trigger finger. The police treat it as self-defence and Richard becomes a local hero. However, things turn decidedly murky. Richard and his young family are stalked by the victim's ex-con father, Ben (Sam Shepard). Richard realises the man he killed isn't the one shown on the 'wanted' poster and, when Ben calls in a private detective to help, the three of them set out to track down the son he hasn't seen for years.

The scene is set for a Coen-style noir, complete with night-time opening scenes and rock music soundtrack. Inevitably, nothing is what it seems to be - including the film itself. It starts out as a revenge thriller, with nasty ol' coot Ben threatening Richard's young son, but soon sharply veers off down an increasingly convoluted road involving police corruption and snuff movies. It's designed to keep the audience guessing and it certainly succeeds in doing that. The trouble is that as the plot continuously twists and turns, the audience runs out of ideas and starts spotting the gaping holes in the plot and characterisation created by all that zig-zagging.

Here's just one: when Richard goes off with Ben and the private detective to track down Ben's son, the one thing he doesn't do is to tell his wife. There's no note, no phone call, yet when he returns home, she welcomes him with open arms and asks no questions. What are the chances of that happening? There are many more, and they ultimately turn out to be a distraction, undermining the film's chances of really ramping up the tension as it draws to its inevitably gothic conclusion.

In fact, joining in the hunt for Ben's son is one of the hardest parts of the story to understand. By this point in the film, Richard's involvement is pretty much over: he's discovered the man he thought he killed is still alive, although he's no idea who he actually shot, so he has no real interest in going to find him. However, he still tags along and spends the rest of the movie looking bewildered, which doesn't give Michael C. Hall much to do in the last third of the film, proving to be a waste of a good actor.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Cold in July (Movie Review)

Sam Shepard has more to get his teeth into as Ben - a man of few words with a very sinister line in smiles - but it is Don Johnson as the flamboyant private detective, Jim Bob, who walks away with the entire film. Things definitely take a turn for the better when he arrives as he has a ball in his gaudy shirt and boots, driving a bright red convertible with the loudest, most tasteless interior going. He might seem like the proverbial Texan good ol' boy, but that twinkly charm disguises a razor sharp mind and he could easily have walked straight out of a Coen brothers' movie.

Rated 6 out of 10


Cold in July is full of nods in the direction of Blood Simple but it's missed one of the great strengths of the classic from the '80s: give the plot just enough twists to carry the audience along. Unfortunately, this film is overburdened with too many of them and even actors of the calibre of Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson are not enough to stop it from digging itself deeper and deeper into a hole - a hole it didn't need to be in.

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