“Cold in July” is a movie that starts in a grim, violent place and proceeds to get grimmer and more violent as it goes along. I am certainly not opposed to taking a trip to the dark side, especially with a cast as good as this one, but you’ve got to give me a good reason for going there. This movie does not.
The seedy underbelly of humanity is not a fun place to visit if you don’t have much to say. What’s worse is this movie takes you there underhandedly with a series of mounting coincidences and logic-leaps that M. Night Shyamalan would snicker at.
The movie starts in the home of unassuming family man Richard Dane (played expertly by Michael C. Hall, embarking on his post-“Dexter” career by sporting a classy Jeff-Fisher-inspired mullet).
One night, Richard guns down an unarmed masked intruder in his living room. Richard is haunted by the incident and it appears the movie is headed down a path of introspection weighing the emotional toll violence can have on the perpetrator. But, man oh man, does this movie take a hard turn in the opposite direction.
Wracked with guilt, Richard travels to the burial of the man he shot where he runs into the deceased’s ex-con father, Russell (Sam Shepard), who is not too happy someone shot his lowlife son in the face.
“Cold in July” certainly gets points for trying, but the plot twists and conspiracies begin to mount beyond the point where you can comfortably suspend your disbelief. By the time Don Johnson drops in as a cocksure private detective on loan from a script Quentin Tarantino pitched into a dumpster, the movie has lost all credibility.
What may be most disappointing about this movie is everyone involved is talented and seems fully invested. Hall is great as the everyman falling down the rabbit hole, although his character’s pivot toward a darker path doesn’t get a lot of exploration or examination, which is too bad because it is the emotional heart of the story.
Shepard is great (and has turned into a bit of a workhorse, showing up in nine movies since 2011) and this is one of the better roles he’s had in a while. Russell is without question the most consistent character and the only one who truly fits in this movie.
What really bummed me out is how truly awesome Johnson is here and how it gets eclipsed by how tonally out of place his character is. It made me wish Jim Bob the Private Eye could get his own movie to romp around in or at the very least his own show on the USA Network.
And as much as his movie goes off the rails, I have to give some praise to director Jim Mickle, who shows he has the chops to be a director to be reckoned with. He knows how to ratchet up the suspense and dread, but he falls too much in love with the pulpiness of the story and the whole thing devolves into a late-night-cable-shoot-‘em-up.
There are a lot of interesting ideas and performances floating around in “Cold in July,” but they just don’t fit together. It’s like forcing pieces from three different jigsaw puzzles together with a pair of scissors and duct tape; you applaud the effort, but it just doesn’t look very good.
“Cold in July” is not rated, but features graphic violence, language, and disturbing images.