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Cold in July - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cold in July
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Cold in July will work better for any readers of its review the less is revealed about it. The well edited trailer takes a savvy approach, taking you only through the setup: Richard (Michael C. Hall) shoots an intruder in his house, killing him; the dead man's just-paroled father, Russel (Sam Shepard), shows up to threaten revenge on Richard's own, much younger little boy. Russell spends a fair amount of time terrorizing Richard's family.

All this is pointedly relevant, but there comes a point where the movie is about something else completely. Finding out how everything changes is part of the tension-filled ride. Sure, things change a little too easily to be plausible. That's not the point. This is an effective thriller, which means it's just close enough to plausible to work.

The setting is a nameless East Texas town at the end of the 1980s. The evocative production design, with its omnipresent props reminding us of the eighties, actually bring to mind sometime closer to 1984. But it's easy to see how rural Texas might be around five years behind more sophisticated locales when it comes to technology. These people aren't exactly on the cutting edge of anything.

Further underscoring the 1980s feel is the synthesizer-heavy score by Jeff Grace, a constant reminder of time and place. It's haunting in a decidedly throwback kind of way. These elements all combine to make a film that is genuinely transporting. Cold in July feels like a movie that was actually released in the eighties, not just a 21st-century movie set in the eighties. It merely has better picture quality.

And this being Texas, there's a decidedly no-nonsense vibe to the characters. Richard himself starts off uncharacteristically nervous, at least compared to the other men around him. Guns are incidental to these people, and it's no surprise that Richard owns one. It's a surprise to him, however, when he shoots a guy in the head without intending to. Eventually, he'll surprise himself in other ways. And not in ways that the film's audience might think. Michael C. Hall's performance here is easily one of his best.

Sam Shepard is comparatively muted as Russel, and Don Johnson shows up as a wily private detective who also happens to be a pig farmer. His showy red car with the vanity license plate from Houston is a little corny. We can look past it.

It's hard not to. There are many sides to the dark shit in this movie. Richard is drawn into one side of it, bringing us to the kind of stuff you want to look away from but just can't. He's a good man, barely holding it together. His revolve is strengthened by things that can't be good for him. They're sure good for making a riveting movie though.

Sam Shepard, Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson get mixed up with surprising characters in COLD IN JULY.

Overall: B+
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