We’re in for a cruel, cruel sum­mer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - COLD IN JULY ★★★ Di­rected by Jim Mickle. Star­ring Michael C Hall, Sam Shep­ard, Don John­son, Vi­nessa Shaw, Nick Dam­ici 16 cert, 110 min

Jim Mickle has di­rected two pretty good films with Cold in July. The first is a ru­ral noir (dec­o­rated with a very sat­is­fac­tory sec­ond-act twist) that points us to­wards the work of James M Cain and Jim Thomp­son. The sec­ond is a de­li­ciously vi­o­lent re­venge thriller with flavours of high-end ex­ploita­tion cin­ema such as John Flynn’s Rolling Thun­der and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat.

Of course, there are ways of fit­ting these two gen­res to­gether (in­deed, they bleed into one an­other). But Mickle doesn’t find them here. A lit­tle over half way through, af­ter fol­low­ing one thread, the film heads ran­domly in an­other di­rec­tion and im­me­di­ately jet­ti­sons any psy­cho­log­i­cal con­sis­tency.

The re­li­able Michael C Hall plays an or­di­nary Joe whose life spins out of con­trol when – more by ac­ci­dent than de­sign – he shoots an in­truder dead in his house. The man turns out to have been un­armed, but this proves no hin­drance to a plea of self-de­fence.

Un­hap­pily for Hall, how­ever, we are in Texas, and that means a brother, son, un­cle or fa­ther is sure to turn up seek­ing re­venge. Dad soon ap­pears in the rugged, charis­matic form of Sam Shep­ard. Then some­thing agree­ably un­ex­pected hap­pens and, as­sisted by crazy PI Don John­son, the two an­tag­o­nists find them­selves drawn to­gether in com­mon cause.

There is much to ad­mire in the film’s tex­tures. All three ac­tors of­fer strong vari­a­tions on their key per­sonae: Hall is nervy; Shep­ard is hewn from oak; John­son lay­ers on the irony. The late 1980s set­ting (re­tained to al­low a key plot point from Joe E Lans­dale’s source novel) is con­vinc­ingly main­tained and only oc­ca­sion­ally height­ened to comic ef­fect. Jeff Grace’s synth score throbs in ways of which John Car­pen­ter would ap­prove.

Still, that mid-point swerve makes no sense. It would be lovely to see the miss­ing halves of these two in­trigu­ing pic­tures. They must be out there. DON­ALD CLARKE

Sam Shep­ard, Michael C Hall and Don John­son in Cold in July

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