Review: Cold in July

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Another rural noir film, Cold In July, set in east Texas in 1989, is a fun, violent romp, but is ultimately overwhelmed by its silly ending. Directed and co-written by Jim Mickle, there are lots of guns, crooked cops, and a pig farmer/private eye played by Don Johnson.

The film begins when mild-mannered frame shop owner Michael C. Hall hears an intruder. He nervously loads his weapon, and shoots and kills the burglar. The dead man had no family except a father (Sam Shepard) who was recently released from a long prison stretch. The first third or so of the movie is a Cape Fear-like exercise as Shepard subtly threatens Hall and his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and young son.

But then the film takes an intriguing turn that I don’t want to get too far into. Suffice it to say that Hall, Shepard, and Johnson (who drives a car that has cattle horns on the front grille) team up in an odd squad of vigilantes. Who would have thought that Hall, who is so good at playing someone ineffectual in the first half of the film, would prove to be a dead-eyed killer, or that Shepard, after so many years in jail, would be such an avenger of the meek and exploited?

Those are just a few of the plot problems. The other is that the second half involves a snuff-film outfit. Snuff films are a fiction that only exists in movies and pulp novels, like Satanic cults. But according to this film, they do a brisk trade in VHS (I loved seeing a top-loading VCR–where did they find that?).

But even with all that, the film is still pretty good. Most of it is due to Johnson and Shepard. Johnson, wearing a cowboy hat, is a hoot, with all the good lines. Shepard, who has gone from rugged leading man to rugged old curmudgeon, is pretty damn scary.

If you can turn off your plausibility meter, Cold in July is ghoulish fun. Mickle shows a good eye for detail and framing, such as a house in the distance while a squad car pulls into the foreground, or point-of-view shots from the driver of a car, moving through the woods at night, headlights illuminating what is to come.

My grade for Cold in July: B-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

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