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Cold in July (Sundance Review)

Jan. 20, 2014by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: A small-town Texas family man (Michael C. Hall) kills an intruder and has to contend with the dead man's vengeful father (Sam Shepard)- although all is not as it seems...

REVIEW: When the first 2014 Sundance titles were announced, COLD IN JULY seemed particularly interesting. For one thing, it's the latest from Sundance favorite Jim Mickle, whose WE ARE WHAT WE ARE and STAKE LAND were midnight smashes. This one plunges him into the higher-brow premiere section, and Mickle's definitely up to the challenge, serving up a bad-ass southern-style actioner that works as a nice change of pace for this usually horror-driven director.

COLD IN JULY is based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale, who also wrote the story BUBBA HO-TEP was based on. The movie keeps the circa-1989 Texas setting of the novel, feeling like a bit of a lost actioner from that era in the process (I mean that as a massive compliment). The absolute coolest thing about COLD IN JULY has to be the cast, led by the star trio of Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson.

If the plot synopsis makes this sound like a straight-forward family-in-jeopardy thriller, rest assured it's not. Hall killing Shepard's son is just the beginning in a seedy noir-styled actioner that gives Hall a nice change-of-pace from DEXTER, and somehow manages to make Sam Shepard something of an action hero despite him being in his sixties.

Without giving too much away, the tone and style of the film takes a completely unexpected turn into hardcore revenge-action territory somewhere around the time Don Johnson shows up as the coolest private eye since Jim Rockford- the awesomely named Jim-Bob- who moonlights as a pig farmer while not tangling with the Dixie Mafia. Johnson is so damn cool in this that the audience cheered pretty much anytime he showed up on screen, and seems poised for a major comeback. Jim-Bob has all the charisma and style of Johnson's own iconic Sonny Crocket from the original MIAMI VICE, minus the pastels and given a cowboy makeover. He's so cool, and Mickle uses him brilliantly, and his chemistry with the milquetoast Hall and Shepard is excellent.

In the last half-hour stretch, COLD IN JULY gets so insane that you'd swear Mickle was the heir apparent to John Carpenter, with the great characters and stripped-down final action setpiece that's probably the best shootout I've seen in years. The only problem with reviewing something like COLD IN JULY is that to go too in-depth would ruin all the twists that make this such a fun and seedy ride.

Certainly, COLD IN JULY is the most purely-entertaining film this year's edition of the fest has yet to offer, and action fans will have a field day with this. Perhaps the only bad thing I can say about tit is that Michael C. Hall's mullet-mustache combo is a tad distracting, but hey- it's the eighties, right? The setting also means we get a couple of rockin' hair metal tunes, and a brilliant synth-score, very reminiscent of Carpenter or Tangerine Dream. Hopefully action fans will turn out in droves to see this retro-styled thriller. It deserves to be big success, and with Jim-Bob being such a staple of Lansdale's books, hopefully a follow-up will be in order. One hopes so because COLD IN JULY is an all-out blast.

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