NZIFF – Cold In July
Like a complete throwback not only is Jim Mickle’s Cold In July set in the late 80s it actually feels like it was made in the late 80s. A grungy southern crime-thriller the film is adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s 1989 novel of the same name. It tells the tale of a home invasion gone terribly wrong and the fallout for ill-equipped small town family man Richard Dane (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall) as he tries to get his bearings in the wake of events he has been swept into. The narrative bucks and bends all over the place taking the story, and genre, to unexpected places and stretching the central character to breaking point. Richard Dane traverses the film almost constantly out of his depth: at first trying, ineffectually, to protect his family and later to do the right thing in the face of multi-layered opposition. Hall’s character is pleasingly uncertain, a far cry from the hyperbolically controlled Dexter. Later he is joined by a brooding Sam Shepard as dangerous criminal Ben Russell, their relationship turns highlighting the character qualities of our lead. About halfway in we are treated to some excellent character work by none other than Don Johnson, in full older Nash Bridges mode, as ostentatious, big talking private investigator Jim Bob Luke. Johnson’s performance is enjoyably large and he perfectly fits the genre as well as imbuing cachet to the feature being an icon 80s law enforcer. The filmmakers shoehorn in some comedic elements care of Johnson which partially work and manage to add colour to the film. The themes and character stereotypes also feel like products of that bygone era with an exaggerated sense of masculine duty and expectation carried off quite naturally by such a pair as Shepard and Johnson. Cold In July’s score from Jeff Grace (Night Moves, The Innkeepers) is the kind of moody synth driven affair that would sit comfortably beside Giorgio Moroder’s work in the Scarface (1983) or Vangelis’s soundtrack for Blade Runner (1982). From filmmakers more widely known for creepy horror pieces (We Are What We Are, Stake Land) the film is a half decent foray into the crime genre by Mickle and his creative partner Nick Damici (who shares writing duties and plays the support role of Det. Ray Price). With enough twists and tension to carry the action along Cold In July is definitely worth the price of admission and harks back to how smart genre films used to feel. Also, the film rolls credits to the perfectly selected tones of White Lion’s 1987 single Wait!
Rating: R18 Offensive language, sexual violence, and violence.