Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Wyatt Russell, Nick Damici, Lanny Flaherty, Kristin Griffith, Brogan Hall
Written by: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle, based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale
Directed by: Jim Mickle
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 109
Date: 05/23/2014

Cold in July (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sweating Bullets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Genre director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) generally makes horror films with a touch of realism, and now, with Cold in July, he takes a classic crime story and adds elements of horror. Based on a novel by cult author Joe R. Lansdale, it turns out to be his best movie yet, a twisty, brainy, patient thriller with guts and imagination as well as a few big laughs. Rooted in genuine human curiosity and empathy, it quickly and easily gets under your skin.

In East Texas, 1989, family man Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) wakes one night to find an intruder in his house. He loads his father's pistol, his finger slips on the trigger, and the perpetrator is dead. Life starts to go back to normal until the victim's father Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) begins hanging around, making indirect threats against Richard's young son. Things turn weird when Richard spots a mug shot and realizes that the man he killed is not who the cops say he is. Worse, the cops seem to want Ben dead rather than in prison. To find out what's going on, Richard and Ben form a truce and call upon an old friend of Ben's, private detective Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson). With luck, this mismatched trio can get to the bottom of things.

Mickle establishes a credible atmosphere, captured in wide, swatches that seem to have all the time in the world; the camera gets many tasty little details. He also makes sure the late-1980s era gets a nod with a John Carpenter-like synthesizer score and the occasional hair-metal song. But best of all are the trio of performances by Dexter's Michael C. Hall, a wounded Sam Shepard, and a cocky, scenery-chewing Don Johnson. Vinessa Shaw is likewise wonderful as Hall's wife, lending a real gravity to that relationship.

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