They Don’t Make (Many) Movies Like This Anymore.
I have talked in the past about my love for Joe R. Lansdale’s writing. He is easily my favorite modern writer and probably the best genre-bending author I have ever had the pleasure of reading. He is also very prolific, and has been for many years, which makes it hard to keep up with everything he’s done; which brings me to Cold In July.
When I heard a film version was in the works I made a mental note that I needed to read the book before watching the movie. This never happened however, so I determined that I wasn’t going to hold off on watching the movie. Even though I have had the film since the week it was released on Blu-Ray (after failing to rent it while it was On Demand), I just now got around to watching it.
Cold In July, although probably not most people’s choice for the “best” or most “important” movie to come out in 2014, is without a doubt my favorite movie of the year. The film, directed by Jim Mickle and adapted by Mickle and Nick Damici, hits a sweet spot for me that is largely forgotten in Hollywood these days; the independent crime film. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, largely thanks to the boom in the video market, the crime film experienced a renaissance due to the sudden viability of independent films. This led to groundbreaking movies like the Coen brothers Blood Simple, John Dahl’s Red Rock West, and John Sayles criminally underrated Lonestar. Unfortunately, due mostly it would seem to the constriction in the video market of the last decade, crime films have dwindled down.
An argument could also be made that Quentin Tarantino, although certainly not on purpose, eventually made the crime genre nonviable due to the invasion of irony and self-awareness his films brought to the table. Add on top of this the work of lesser filmmakers stealing Tarantino’s style but none of his intelligence (Troy Duffy and his insufferable The Boondock Saints comes to mind) and the straight-up crime movie seems to have gone away. I am hoping that Cold In July, and the rise of On Demand options, is the start of a new age for the crime genre.
Cold In July starts with a murder. After being woken up by his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw), Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) interrupts a man who is robbing his house. As Dane confronts the intruder he accidentally shoots and kills him. The man is identified as Freddy Russell (Wyatt Russell), a man that is known to be a thief and wanted criminal, and the shooting is ruled as self-defense by the law. Although cleared by the police, Richard has problems coping with the murder of the man even though everyone feels that it was justified. He eventually goes to the cemetery and watches Freddy’s funeral from afar. Before he drives away, Richard is confronted by Freddy’s father Ben (Sam Shepard) who makes seemingly threatening comments about Richard’s wife and son.
Richard leaves the funeral spooked and goes directly to pick his son up from school. As he gets to his son he notices that Ben has followed him and is waiting across the street. Viewing this as a threat, Richard goes to the police who tell him that without an actual threat they can’t actively do anything other than send a patrolman out every couple of hours to do a welfare check. Frustrated, Richard returns home to find that his house has been broken into, a teddy bear in his son’s room has been ripped apart, and bullets have been scattered across the floor. At this point the police send out officers to patrol the woods throughout the night and put an officer in the house to stand watch.
Up until this point the film follows a pretty tried and true formula; a murder happens, person wants revenge. If you know anything about Joe R. Lansdale as a storyteller however, you know it’s not going to be that simple. Needless to say things get more complicated and there are a few twists and turns along the way. I don’t like giving too many spoiler-ish plot points away so I am going to stop here. Although I will point out that Don Johnson gives one of his finest performances ever in this movie as private detective, Jim Bob Luke. A recurring character of Lansdale’s, Luke is a flashy, pig-farming private eye that Johnson seems born to play.
This film pretty much nails everything and makes it all seem effortless; the performances are spot-on, the script cracks with noir style, the setting (Texas, 1989) is portrayed exceptionally well, and the score sounds like a great “lost” John Carpenter soundtrack. I felt immersed the entire time in the world of this movie. Even though that should be a very important thing for a film to do, a lot of filmmakers seem to overlook it. Jim Mickle has made a wonderful piece of period film-making and made it seem easy. This movie has made me even more excited for the Hap and Leonard series being developed at the Sundance Channel. Hap and Leonard are probably Lansdale’s best known characters and Jim Mickle is involved in the production so it should be great.
So yeah, I pretty much loved Cold In July. I plan on checking out the novel in the next few days and I’m sure I will enjoy it as much as the rest of Lansdale’s books. Do yourself a favor, go buy/rent/download this movie (and read the book and any and all of Lansdale’s other stuff). If you love Blood Simple, if you love Lonestar, if you just love a good crime film in general, check this one out! You won’t be disappointed.
Until next time…