Sunday, 29 June 2014

Movie Review: Cold In July

Directed By Jim Mickle

Written By Nick Damici, Jim Mickle (screenplay adapted from a Joe R Lansdale novel)

Starring Michael C Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Wyatt Russell

Synopsis (from

When a protective father meets a murderous ex-con, both need to deviate from the path they are on as they soon find themselves entangled in a downwards spiral of lies and violence while having to confront their own inner psyche.

A bit of background

I've never made a secret of the fact that I'm a massive Miami Vice fan. So, when I heard that Don Johnson was going to guest on Graham Norton's UK chat show, I thought I'd catch it. I was interested in what Don was going to say about Cold in July (let's face it he was there to promote it). Just as it seemed that Don was going to talk about the Miami Vice years, Cheryl Cole interrupted by saying "Cuuuld in Joo-lie, there must hav coom over ere" or similar. Don lost his thread and whatever he was going to say got lost. Thanks Cheryl, after all it's all about you isn't it.
So, after that disappointment, I was primed to see a screening of Cold in July, with the Director doing a Q&A. I was hoping perhaps Don being in the country might mean a surprise visit but sadly it was not to be.


This was always going to be a Perfect Storm, for me; a mix of Jim Mickle directing a Joe R Lansdale story, starring favourites of mine; Don Johnson, Michael C Hall and Nick Damici and scored by Jeff Grace. I'm a fan of all of them for different reasons. I sat there, thinking "Please don't suck". I can safely say that Cold In July doesn't suck. It's not the masterpiece that Stake Land was (I love that movie and I reviewed it here) but it's a potential movie of the year for me, so far.

What struck me immediately, was that the opening scene was so John Carpenter. I wondered if Mickle had asked the man to do him a favour and take over directing reigns. Of course, he hadn't and it's no slight to Mickle that I reference Carpenter. It's a clear homage; a love letter to that era. The electronic score, by Jeff Grace evokes the Carpenter/Howarth collaboration that produced such iconic scores to Halloween, Escape From New York and Dark Star, yet has an identity all of it's own. Grace takes a theme that initially is a driving techno track and in the right places, repeats the theme with a gentle piano version that is very effective.
Some of the shots emulate Carpenter's style, from Halloween. The night shoot is so good and refined that it could have been carried out by Dean Cundey. When the title arrives on screen it even appears to have the same font that Carpenter favoured for most of his movies. There is also a few nods to Dario Argento, with the use of colour and camera movement.
Mickle's previous background in Horror movies will explain many of the tense scenes that follow those conventions, even down to the manhunt towards the end.

The movie begins with an intruder in Hall's house. To say much more than that might spoil the film. Cold in July is one of the few Lansdale novels that I haven't read. Generally, I stuck to his genre books (From Zombie Westerns to Drive Ins besieged by alien monsters) and the Hap and Leonard series (something Mickle is adapting to television, with a pilot due to be submitted this Fall). I went in without knowing the plot and the viewing benefitted from that.

In typical Noir fashion, an event opens up a whole can of bad worms, as the triumvirate of Hall, Shephard and Johnson find a common cause and a foe to vanquish.

Don Coscarelli showed that it was possible to film a low budget adaptation of Lansdale's novel whilst retaining the voice of Lansdale. Well, it was easy because on both occasions, Lansdale did adapt his own screenplays and this is the only minor gripe of mine; that Lansdale's voice wasn't quite as pronounced. This isn't a major failing and more of an nit pick on my part.

As one of my fellow viewers remarked on, at the Q&A, what Mickle does brilliantly is portray  the last year of the 80s with reverence and accuracy. There are things that you'll laugh at; Hall's mullet, Johnson's car phone, but Mickle invites you to laugh without sarcasm. With the car phone, Mickle and Damici's screenplay cleverly references mobile phone signal issues that we still suffer today.

Having just seen 8 seasons of Dexter, I can say that at no point did I think "there's Dexter". Hall plays a not entirely sympathetic character who reacts to a situation and then finds himself discovering an ugly side to his character that has to tap into, to protect his family.

When Don Johnson arrives, the tone of the movie shifts and becomes a little lighter. His gravitas is perfectly in place, and similar to his participation in Robert Rodriguez's TV adaptation of From Dusk til Dawn.

I've read that some found it difficult to empathise with the characters. For me, the characters become drawn together to get rid of a sickness that pervades their community. We don't see the bigger picture, we just see how the Dixie Mafia has influenced behaviour and encouraged it. There's no need to tell that bigger story.

Fans of Blood Simple, and Fargo, will enjoy this story. It follows a similar path to bloody and violent revenge thrillers, too.

The final scenes evoke memories of John Flynn's Rolling Thunder, John Woo's A Better Tomorrow 2 with it's Peckinpah style violent gun battle.


With Transformers 4 about to dominate the World Box Office, it's refreshing that a movie like this actually got a cinema release, whoever limited. I would have expected this to go straight on to disc. I hope this shows great faith in a director and writer whose careers on the up. I also hope that with The Equalizer receiving a "Hard R" certificate in the US, film studios recognise that movies that appeal to adults can still be made without editing them to a PG-13. Whilst I understand the economics of doing this, cinema is competing with increasingly violent TV shows like Banshee, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. With this in mind, I look forward to seeing the show based on Joe R Lansdale's Hap and Leonard stories. Good times in the Southern US will continue on screen.

Cold in July is currently on release.

A big thanks to FrightFest for putting on the screening and the Q&A. Tickets have just gone on sale for their annual London Film Festival. Find out how to buy tickets here.