Cold in July

| September 30, 2014

A couple of years ago, there was a series of movies that came out that tried to blend genre in interesting ways and the end result was a chaotic mess.  Watching the trailers, I couldn’t figure out what the movie was trying to be or who it was trying to appeal to.  Cold in July is very much like one of those films, except it’s done very well.  This reinforces my general writing philosophy that anything can be done well.

The story begins when a masked man breaks into the home of Richard (Michael C. Hall; Dexter) and his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw; Ray Donovan).  Terrified, Richard shoots the man and kills him.  The man turns out to be the son of Ben (Sam Shepard), who starts terrorizing Richard’s family in the name of revenge.  So, the movie starts out like a personal drama about a guy having to come to terms with killing another person, and then shifts into a revenge thriller.  Without giving too much away, the film also takes on qualities of a detective noir, a political thriller, and a contemporary suburban western.  As I said, the movie manages to do all this extremely well, as it moves fluidly from genre to genre and builds on what has already been established within and between the three main characters.

This aspect of the film fascinated me because I’ve never really seen a film structured like this and actually pull it off.  After a while, I was able to not see Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard as Dexter Morgan and one of the greatest living playwrights respectively.  Soon, they were absorbed into their characters and only existed as these two enemies who are driven together against a common foe.

I find the film to be thematically very strong, as main idea of losing a son comes into play throughout the film as it shifts from style to style.  Shepard’s performance is amazing, and at one point I wanted the film to shift to him as the main character, but once I saw how things played out I could see why they chose to keep things from Richard’s point of view throughout.  Later in the film, they’re joined by Don Johnson (Eastbound and Down), as a quick-witted private detective who adds a wonderful balance to the dynamic between the other characters.

The only performance I have criticisms about is Vinessa Shaw’s.  This isn’t Shaw’s fault; after the beginning of the film, the character has very little purpose other than demonstrating what Richard has to lose, which isn’t even at stake later in the movie.

Overall, Cold in July is a gripping and character-driven drama that has emerged as one of my favorite films of the year.  Check it out.

Available now on blu-ray and DVD from IFC Films.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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