Do a Shot: when Ben Russell enters the picture
Shotgun a Beer: when you see what Ben Russell is capable of
Shotgun an Old-fashioned Pabst: when Don Johnson makes his debut
Take a Body Shot: when Vinessa Shaw shows that looks and acting chops are just… hot
Down a 32 oz: locked and loaded for the finale
By: Jake Turner (A Toast) –
Sometimes being old-fashioned is a good thing. Case in point with the revenge thriller, Cold in July, whose brutal heart keeps thumping away.
Based on the Joe R. Lansdale novel, it opens in the midnight hour in 1989 East Texas. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) accidentally kills a lowly burglar. Dane runs a carpet store in the area and when the police identifies the burglar as Freddy Russell, he is declared a local hero. It becomes a short celebration when ex-con Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) comes storming into town looking for vengeance for his son’s death. However, Dane suspects that the local police, run by Ray Price (Nick Damici), are hiding something when he witnesses a twist that changes the tapestry of the story. Russell backs off Dane and enter a FBI agent, Jim Bob Luke (played slyly by Don Johnson) which sends the story due south to Houston.
These are the wrong guys you want to lie to.
Director Jim Mickle does an excellent job shooting this like a 1970’s revenge thriller. Films like Death Wish came to mind with their unapologetic and violent brutality. The twists and turns show the true crime, and it warrants cold-blooded revenge on its criminals. Even Mickle keeps the dark humor from distracting from its story that speeds things up in the final bloody minutes. There is no slick cinematography, but stripped down grit from the time Jim Bob enters. Mickle handles the action choreography with substance over style and precision in humanizing the characters by emphasizing the word “fear” in their reactions.
Ironically, I believe this.
There are uniformly excellent performances across the board, with Hall embodying a man that has never taken someone else’s life and showing that not everyone reacts like a hero. He’s shaken to a point that anything could make him snap like a twig. Then, he shows what happens when fear is thrown out the window. Shepard should get some nods for his complex performance, showing that a father-son relationship could be turned into a double-edged sword if it merits the angry reaction of a conflicted father. Johnson always knows how to deliver on characters like Jim Bob. He is a simple man that believes in old-school strategy when it comes to bending the rules of justice and is dangerous with a double barreled shotgun in hand. Vinessa Shaw has never gotten critical respect as an actress. I am going to be the one to tell you she was terrific as Dane’s wife, emphasizing the meaning of “standing by your man”, but knowing to be a mother first and a wife second when Richard is having issues. You feel the pain of this woman, something that reminded me of Maria Bello in A History of Violence.
If I can handle Christian Bale as my son, I can take anything.
Cold in July doesn’t waver to modern filmmaking but knows how to do book to film storytelling in a throwback 1970s style, making it as intense on screen as possible with its excellent performances, brutal action sequences, and delivering on its vengeance in cold-blooded fashion. At the end of this film, I was applauding it and that alone is rare. This is one of the best of the year. Seek it out, you will not be disappointed.