There’s an on-going debate in America that has divided the country, with heated arguments arising on both sides of the camp about the “right to bare arms.” Whatever your stance on the matter however, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that having a weapon in the home increases the chances of a tragedy occurring, which leads us to the opening sequence of the film.
Set in the backdrop of small-town America in the 80’s, we find darkly thriller Cold in July starring Michael C. Hall (Dexter) as a protective father who shoots and kills a man in his home before having to deal with the consequences of his actions. Now labelled a hero by the Texan townsfolk, he can’t help but feel embarrassed following confrontation by an intruder which resulted in his living room getting an untimely decoration.
Up until this point you get the impression that the man who runs a picture framing shop hasn’t really led an exciting life. He has a lot of questions to ask and not many people are willing to answer them, so he takes matters into his own hands. These situations are never simple however, and no sooner is the criminal put in the ground does his ex-con father, Ben (Sam Shepard), turn up on his doorstep looking for vengeance. But there’s more than meets the eye here, with Dane suspecting that the man whom he killed wasn’t the person the authorities say he is.
From here we get a film which is full of mystery and intrigue, with the right amount of tension to keep us hooked throughout. Having initially set out to gain revenge for his son’s death, Ben and Richard (Hall) team up alongside the gregarious Texan Detective Jim Bob, played by none-other than Mr. 80s himself, Don Johnson. After discovering that the home invasion was a plot by the local PD, all three men set about unraveling the mystery behind the mistaken home-invader and systematically take down those who tried to cover it up.
Despite its premise there are still some faults with the story. One of the main issues being that it doesn’t really know what it is, or rather what it wants to be. The timing feels a little off, making it somewhat difficult as a viewer because your emotions aren’t ever really in the correct mindset. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you get the feeling it would be best suited to a psychological thriller rather than this. One moment it’s a revenge caper, the next a horror flick and then in the very next scene we’re in a classic 80’s buddy film. This shift is further emphasised by the three central characters, who at times appear to be starring in entirely different films.
While Johnson has a hoot portraying a character that is a self-parody of his successful latter career (see Django Unchained), Shepard plays the straight who shoots from the hip and takes no nonsense. It’s Hall who steals the show however, playing the emasculated antihero seduced flanked either side by the relics of old-school machismo, learning the cold hard truth about what it means to act like a man.
One of the films more incorrigible aspects is its 80’s-induced synth-soundtrack which was supplied by Jeff Grace, which despite being a welcome addition it still feels a little out of place. I’m not to up-to-date with my American pop-culture, but a film which is set in 1980’s Texas that toys around with an undercurrent of synth is a little confusing, but regardless of this the harmonies perfectly set the tone for some of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Cold In July is a film which, despite struggling from an identity crisis, is well-paced and keeps audiences on the edge of their seats as the story bobs and weaves in unexpected directions before coming to a bloody and satisfying climax.