Film Reviews

Cold In July Jim Mickle

Rating - 6/10

Jim Mickle’s Cold in July, based on the 1989 novel of the same title, tells the story of family man Richard Dane (Michael C Hall) who, when visited by an unexpected intruder, finds that his decisions made on that night will forge his simple domestic life into a path of dangerous and brutal territory.

The film starts at an exciting and agonising pace, with Hall’s panic and fright wonderfully contrasting with the slow and subtle camera movement that seems to drift towards the trespassing presence. It is the balance in this scene however that makes the rest of the film seem jumbled and unorganised. The director appears to have given great thought into every shot in this opening scene, particularly with a zoom shot that works to hone the audience into the fear that such an occurrence can bring. Yet this shot is a perfect example of how Mickle repeats these strategies but with less effect as the film progresses. With this being the case, the movie starts to feel less and less stylistic but more repetitive, in turn impacting the excitement, something the story relies on. 

Ben Russell’s (Sam Shepard) entrance into the film however brings something fresh and new to the story, as the audience can feel both menace and sadness reverberate from his subtle facial expressions. Though Hall’s character stands strong against Shepard’s presence, with the two often exploiting great chemistry in their dialogue with one another, the director takes full advantage of Shepard’s brilliance with the use of close up shots that cause the viewer to question the ex convict’s motives. As Shepard’s character develops and his past is revealed, the film feels somewhat reminiscent of Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines, with a clear focus on the devastating consequences that pursue wrong choices and their affect on later generations. This concept seems to be placed throughout the movie, with Richard Dane’s son imitating the shooting of a gun without any awareness of the impact such a weapon has had on not only his father’s life but the lives of others.

It's interesting that Mickle didn’t think it necessary to update the novel’s setting from the eighties to 2014. With the films close connection to the implications of self protection in America, which have come under scrutiny in recent years, and the unsympathetic view towards criminals particularly from the police, Mickle’s belief that the story is a relevant one in today’s society brings to light the outdated gun laws in the United States.  In this sense the movie stands in itself as the sign of the lack of development from the nineteen eighties to the twenty first century where the laws lack any conviction. 

With this in mind it felt as though there needed to be more focus on Dane’s family, particularly his wife who consistently remained passive as her husband’s long “business” excursions became more and more suspicious yet were not met with any scrutiny. For there to be any deep thought towards the political and sociological connotations that the story holds, the impact of the main event on those close to Richard Dane needed to be enforced to a higher degree. 

The film does hold some major strong points however, including the score. Throughout the film the strong and often electronic sound that composer Jeff Grace produces provides many scenes with fantastic atmosphere and depth. The soundtrack holds major similarities to Cliff Martinez’s work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive in which the brooding faces of characters combine perfectly with sinister yet pop driven tracks. One piece in particular, titled Father and Son, is able to combine all the dark undertones the film contains with the thrilling aspects of its suspense, a testament to Grace’s capability. 

While listening to the score however, the track listing suggests a lack of fluidity that is also present in the film. Amongst the brooding sounds of Father and Son and The Mansion the mood is somewhat interrupted by the upbeat western sounds of Back of My Smile by Kasey Lansdale. This is also present upon the arrival of Jim Bob (Don Johnson), turning up in a red convertible blasting load music and providing some cringe worthy winks and one liners. His presence, though a key to the story, appears to have been totally misjudged by the writers Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. Although he provides slight comic relief from the films sometimes sinister nature, it feels out of place and unnecessary. On one hand we have the two characters of Richard Dane and Ben Russell, who seem to complement each other, while on the other we have Jim Bob who wouldn’t be out of place in Seth Macfarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West

This is not to say that Jonson is weak, with all three of the leads providing fantastic performances. However, the film is not consistent and precise, particularly towards the final stages in which the director believes that all-out action would please an audience that have waited for a satisfying conclusion. In fact the concluding shots in slow motion seem to be Mickle dragging out a denouement which is somewhat of an anticlimax. 

Watching the film in a small screen did not negatively impact any of the shocks or gasps caused by the gun shots or screams from the film’s characters, and this is a tribute to what the movie and Mickle can do. Yet the film left me in want, desiring more from the finale and I will be eager to see if the director can fully deliver next time around.