Cold in July
(110 minutes, Rated R)
When Pulp Fiction graced screens in 1994, it presented the perfect homage to the pulpy material of yesteryear; yet, as much as it was an homage, it started the notion that lurid material could be more than sheer shock value. It created a sub-genre for pulp, which Tarantino has made an illustrious career out of; but at the same time, it showed that rehashed ideas could be expressed in new and inventive ways. And that is what Cold in July represents; while it is nowhere near the excellence of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, it takes a clichéd home invasion story line and adds an inventive twist.
With that said, there is an unnerving voyeuristic quality to this picture; this is the ‘down and dirty south’ inhabited with unlikable character like this year’s Joe. However, unlike that Nicolas Cage vehicle, Jim Mickle created an immersive atmosphere that keeps the audience engaged for nearly all of its 110 minute runtime. Now, there are countless lulls, but perhaps out of pure curiosity of what will happen next, I found myself engrossed by this little indie flick.
And much of this has to do with a script, which seemingly takes a clichéd home invasion story line and subverts it. For once in a long time, I saw a movie and was surprised by nearly all of it. This is very rare, at least in the Internet day and age, but Cold in July’s charm draws from the fact that it keeps the audience guessing. The picture at its core is a slow-burn pulpy crime noir, but consistently throughout, it is reinvigorated by grisly violence that equates to a shot of adrenaline. Now, further add a ‘whodunnit’ narrative and the result is an experience that is unrivaled today. And while the outcome does not live up to the hype established throughout, the climactic finale will satisfy even the most hardened action fans.
On top of this, Cold in July is rounded out with an interesting cast; most of the characters will be one-dimensional, but the talent involved was not wasted. Even with the limited screen time for certain roles, it seems that each actor was able to add their distinct style of quirkiness: seemingly small roles like Sheriff Ray Price, who disappears after act two, is memorable solely because of Nick Damici’s performance. In other films or perhaps with another actor, the role would be nothing more than a one dimensional plot device designed to move the story forward. And while I know Nick Damici’s performance does not deserve any awards, the pulpy aurora aids the dirty feeling of watching bad people do bad things.
Even the overused idea of back roots justice is presented with Don Johnson’s Jim Bob and Sam Shepherd’s Russel; and even I have to admit that this story line appeared to be shallow. Yet, by the end of Cold in July, the flick subverts the audience’s expectations by having them root for despicable things. This is why this picture works; Jim Bob and Russel inhabit the grey area, yet somehow the audience will defend their actions. Perhaps this has more to do with Don Johnson’s charisma or Sam Shepherd’s fierce but honorable character, but both of their performances are magnetic and will have you justifying even their darkest moments.
With that said, the flick is able to toe the line between pulpy shock and character study, with Michael C. Hall’s Richard Dane; a character who is a coward, but acts perfectly as the audience’s avatar. He is just as shocked by the violence and the inhabiting characters as the viewer; however, his motivations feel real and more thorough than the average pulp protagonist. From beginning to end and with every twist, one understands Richard’s actions and need for redemption, which is as much of a compliment to the writing as it is the acting. After watching Hall as the seemingly superhuman Dexter for nearly decade, it is refreshing to see him as the neutered type: the role that made him famous on Six Feet Under.
As for the direction, Jim Mickle adds an intense look that screams indie thriller; while it seems that his vision was limited by a micro budget, Mickle uses every trick to keep this flick visually enticing. And though it does suffer from the pretentious shots seen in most indie projects, which creates several lulls in the narrative, his direction never really hinders the overall product.
However, the best aspect of this 110 minute picture, is the simple yet spine-tingling score from Jeff Grace. The composer, who has worked with Mickle on past projects, created a soundtrack that will keep anyone on the edge of their seat. The music, which is reminiscent to John Carpenter’s scores, remains simplistic; yet somehow it adds another layer to this pulp yarn, which furthers the overall mystique of the plot. The blood curdling score of this thriller is worth the five-dollar rental alone; luckily, a great movie comes with the overall product.
However, it is important to point out that Cold in July is far from perfect; the 110 minute runtime could have been shortened by five to ten minutes. Also, the slow-burn suffers from Mickle’s independent direction, which contains slow approaching shots that are designed to give the audience anxiety; but instead, caused me to check my watch several times. With that said, if you can get past these lulls, you will be treated to an engaging pulpy crime noir that will leave you guessing to the very end.