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Movie review: 'Cold in July' a luke-warm thriller

Cold In July


Cold in July (opening today) is a dark and gritty thriller with a slick undertone of humor. But this pulp fiction tale degenerates along the way, becoming a disappointing shoot 'em-up that gives in to every genre cliche.

Scenes from "Cold in July."
Scenes from "Cold in July."
Photo courtesy of IFC Films, 2014. Used with permission.
"Cold in July."
Photo courtesy of IFC Films, 2014. Used with permission.

The story takes place in the deep South, where you don't have to look too far to spot a passing mullet or over-sized belt buckle. Richard (Michael C. Hall), his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and their young child awake to some bumps in the night, when Richard reaches for his revolver. He strolls out to his living area to discover a masked assailant in his home. He pulls the trigger and his life (and the lives of others) instantly takes a dramatic turn.

As Richard and his family try to re-adjust to normal life, they have become somewhat of local heroes. The local police captain (Nick Damici) investigating the break-in informs Richard that the robber was a convicted felon, whose father, Russel (Sam Shepard), just got out on parole. It seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Russell starts showing up wherever Richard is at and his not-so-idle threats shake Richard to the core. Russell looks to seek revenge for his son's demise and Richard looks to protect his family. But things are not at all as they seem. A plot twist here and a plot twist there, and suddenly, we find Richard and Russell engulfed in a suspenseful mystery, hot on the trail of answers.

The film is injected with snide comic relief when Jim Bob (Don Johnson) appears about mid-way through. He is a dirty Marshal that gets involved in the manhunt that Richard and Russell find themselves a part of.

The problems begin early when characters start making unexplainable choices. By the film's end, the story devolves into bad guys and worse guys emptying out clip after clip in one tense gun-fight after another. Director Jim Mickle keeps things visually interesting, mostly out of necessity, because some of the many stray bullets seem to have shot gaping holes in the film's plot. You will ask yourself what is motivating each character to do what they do, and if you aren't distracted by the action, disappointment will surely set in if you try to make sense of it.

This is despite pretty great acting all the way around, from Michael C. Hall, to Sam Shepard, to the scenery-chewing Don Johnson. Their performances aren't enough though, to make Cold in July anything more than an average thriller, a film that will test the limits of your suspended belief, and one that is in need of some serious script re-tooling.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes, Rated R

Starring: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Wyatt Russell, Nick Damici

Based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale

Written by Nick Damici (Mulberry St, We Are What We Are)

Co-Written & Directed by Jim Mickle (Mulberry St, We Are What We Are)

Opens locally on Friday, June 6, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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