Cold in July

Joseph Walsh

Jim Mickle’s Cold in July, a tense thriller adapted from Joe Lansdale’s pulp novel of the same name, stars a mulleted and mustachioed Michael C. Hall as a mild-mannered Texan called Richard Dane.

We first meet Dane gingerly tip-toeing through the corridors of his small-town home in fear of his family's life after hearing an intruder entering the house. Within seconds a gun goes off, blood splatters the walls and a quaking Hall realizes he has killed the perp.

The blood and brain-matter washed off the walls, Dane attempts to adjust to life as a man who has killed. Hall plays the character as a barrel of nerves, attempting to step up into his big, manly shoes. Initially, we watch him attempt to play the role he knows, picking out drapes and couches to replace the blood-spattered ones with his wife (played by the biting Vinessa Shaw) and his young son in tow. Soon enough he realizes that this suburban bliss has been irrevocably shattered.

Before long, Sam Shepard – who plays the victim’s grizzled ex-con father – starts mysteriously popping up around town. We could be forgiven for thinking that the plot will wander down a prosaic revenge tale, but we'd be very wrong. Suddenly the plot snakes away from this initial set-up and, after some shady antics involving the local sheriff (Nick Damici), Dane discovers things aren’t quite what they seem concerning the identity of the man he shot. This leads to Ben and Richard teaming up, along with Ben’s best pal, a white Stetson-sporting pig-farmer and ex-soldier (don’t laugh, it's quite brilliant) called Jim Bob Luke, played by Don Johnson on top form. Heading off in Jim’s blood red Cadillac, festooned with a set of bullhorns on the front grill, they go in search of the truth, which leads them into conflict with the Dixie Mafia.

The film relishes in pulpiness, saturated in its 1980s setting, full of top-loading VHS players, mullets and a slightly anachronistic, but whole-heartedly brilliant, synth-score. Beneath all the period trappings, amidst the plethora of twists and turns, it's the keen exploration of masculine identity that captivates most, being a film about fathers, sons and male friendship, wrapped in the guise of a modern western. Arguably, the question raises its head as to whether we need another film about what it means to be a man? Mickle answers our concerns with seeming ease – yes we do, especially when it's so freshly handled, examining the subject through the lens of man’s man world.

Slippery, genre-fuelled and deftly handling the hairpin narrative, Mickle makes us forget the absurdity of what we are watching as we get wrapped up in Shepard and Johnson’s growling. This is exploitation cinema at its best. 

Follw Joseph on Twitter: @JosephDAWalsh

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