“You know when a dog bites you... you can either chain him up... or shoot him.”
Cold in July was one of the most surprising films of 2014 for me considering I didn’t have much expectations for it. I had never heard of director Jim Mickle nor had I read Joe R. Lansdale’s novel so I was expecting a standard and by the books revenge thriller. I hadn’t even watched the trailer for this film, but I did want to see Michael C. Hall in a starring role considering I loved his work in Dexter. I got much more than I bargained for from this witty and entertaining thriller set in 1989 East Texas. It begins as a simple revenge tale after a family man (played by Michael C. Hall) kills a burglar in his home. It turns out that the victim was a wanted felon so he becomes sort of an overnight hero in his small town. However, the victim’s father (Sam Shepard) shows up and begins to threaten his family. Up to this point everything felt by the books, but I was still having a good time with it. From the opening scene I felt the tension and was enjoying the suspense, but when the twists began kicking in it simply elevated the film to a whole other level. With each twist and revelation the film grew on me more and more because it became unpredictable and grittier. It also has its touches of humor scattered throughout the film thanks to a strong supporting performance from Don Johnson. I had a great time with this film as it kept me at the edge of my seat. I absolutely recommend this well paced thriller which plays with its well known genre conventions.
The strong performances in this film are a big reason why the twists and thrills work. First of all, Michael C. Hall gives in my opinion the best performance in his career. He carries the film from beginning to end as we see the transformation he experiences after the fatal incident in his home with the burglar. The town may recognize him as a hero, but he feels uneasy about having killed a man even though he was defending his home. When Sam Shepard’s character shows up fear begins to creep in to his life and Hall portrays these feelings perfectly. Shepard is also outstanding in the supporting role as his presence is threatening. But Don Johnson is the one who steals the show from the moment he appears on screen driving a flashy red car and wearing a cowboy hat. He is comedic at times, but someone the audience trusts to help solve the mystery. Don Johnson himself helps give the film a more retro vibe than it already had (so does Hall’s mullet). I really enjoyed each one of the characters in this film along with the dark mood and surprising twists. The electric score also adds a lot to the overall atmosphere of the film. I’m really interested now in getting familiar with Jim Mickle’s work because he really surprised me with this film.