An ordinary man undergoes extraordinary duress that has the potential to break him or change him forever. This is the basic premise of “Cold in July,” a bloody Southern-fried thriller that is undeniably slick in execution yet nevertheless manages to maintain a higher level of realism than many films of it’s ilk. But “Cold in July” still managed to surprise me, going in a direction I had never expected and growing twistier by the minute.
Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) is an average schmoe who kills a home invader accidentally-ish and must protect his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and son (Brogan Hall) when a man who appears to be the intruder’s father (Sam Shepard) threatens their lives. But just when you think the grizzled old goon’s going to be the lead antagonist and pull the conflict toward a predictable conclusion- Bam!- the plot swerves another direction entirely. It’s surprising and actually really cool to see Ben (Shepard,) Richard (Hall) and a slick-as-ice good ol’ boy named Jim Bob (who ‘knows a guy who knows a guy,’ to quote Breaking Bad‘s Saul,) played by Don Johnson, join forces to fight a greater evil.
The effect of this movie is not dissimilar is digging into a happy meal to find a prize that totally isn’t what you expected, but hey, looks pretty good on your bureau after all. The color scheme is wild and crazy, and above all, striking– most scenes are shot with a filter that seem to cloak the environment either in orange and yellow or an intense cyan color. This is a daring move on the cinematographer’s part, although sometimes it doesn’t quite work- the colors are at times so turned-up that it’s hard to focus on anything else.
The Electronica-heavy soundtrack might turn off some potential viewers and drive others to agitation, but it was just fine by me. Another radically unique way they set up the movie is the atypical portrayal of action hero Richard. Unlike most of these kinds of movies, it doesn’t seem that Richard enjoys killing, although he feels compelled to do it later on in the film. The killing of the burglar is messy and violent, but neither Richard nor the filmmaker seem to particularly take glee in it.
After the event, Richard seems visibly shaken, which is a powerful anecdote to all those testosterone fueled protagonists who take pride in their first kills. When Richard kills again, it is a out of a sense of duty to his companions, but he still doesn’t seem to get any enjoyment out of it. He’s not the quipping, sneering hero of 80’s action movies. He is you. He is me. He doesn’t really know how to handle a gun, but he wields one anyway because it is what is expected of a Southern father and husband. Whether it serves him well is ultimately up to you to decide.
There are unrealistic moments in “Cold in July” (like Richard dodging machine gun shells towards the end of the film, I mean come on!,) but if you’re looking for something quite different from your average, run-of-the-mill action flick, I suggest you give this solid little thriller a try.
Warning– As the stream of violence is continual and gruesome (and because of a scene of violence against women,) weak stomachs may want to steer clear of this gory, gutsy revenge flick.