Directed by Jim Mickle and based on the novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale (who also served as the film's co-producer), 2014's Cold In July takes place in Texas in 1989. Here a man named Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) and his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) are woken up late one night when someone breaks into their house. Richard quietly loads his pistol and, with hands shaking, heads downstairs. He sees the robber and shoots him dead on the spot. The cops, led by Sheriff Ray (Nick Damici), come around but this was a clear case of self-defense, Richard was just doing what he had to do to protect his wife and son, Jordan (Brogan Hall).
When, on a whim of sorts, Richard drives by the cemetery when the man he shot is being buried, he runs into Russell (Sam Shepard), the father of the dead man who has only recently been let out of prison. Russell makes it pretty clear that he intends to get revenge for what was done to his son, and Richard is understandably unsettled by this. He calls the cops but as Russell hasn't actually done anything yet, there's not much they can do. When Richard comes across a picture of Russell's son, he doesn't recognize him as the man he shot that night. When a private detective named Jim Bob (Don Johnson) arrives in town to help Russell, things get… complicated.
What starts off like a fairly standard revenge thriller soon starts to twist and turn into something far more complex and far more interesting. Like the book it was based on and so much of Lansdale's output it's a hard-edged story that never lacks in tense, sweaty atmosphere or twisted character development. Without wanting to spoil the plot we'll tread carefully in this regard but there are some really great moments here, the kind that keep you on the edge of your seat. Small towns often have secrets, dark secrets, and that's very definitely the case here and it's really interesting to see how the three main characters each evolve in different ways while dealing with this. The story also does a really good job of exploring various family ties and deftly exploiting how they make people do what they do. We see this not just with Richard's side of the story, but through Russell's as well and this grounds these characters in ways that make them both interesting and sympathetic to the viewer.
As good as the story is and as good as the look of the movie is, the performances are also a bit part of what sells this one. Hall is excellent as the fairly meek everyman type thrust into a bad situation he really never wanted to be in. His character is smarter than he looks and he brings an appropriate intelligence to the part without ever overplaying it. It's a somewhat restrained performance but a completely effective one and it's nice to see him getting out from under the shadow of Dexter with something a strong as his work here. Sam Shepard is also great. He's got an underlying intensity, a sense of menace, lurking just below his remarkably calm exterior and you definitely get the feeling that he's not the type of man you'd want to mess with. When he's harassing the Dane's you really feel for them, he is a frightening man and Shepard really nails it here. Don Johnson is a bit of a scene stealer, his character is a bit more over the top than the other two leads and he's obviously having a great time in the role. He's charismatic and cool and just a real joy to watch. This is definitely a case of perfect casting and after seeing the film it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than him in the part.
The production team do a great job with period detail, keeping that late eighties setting completely believable. The most obvious example of this is Michael C. Hall's ratty looking mullet and moustache but we see it all throughout the movie. The cars, the furnishings (when the Dane family has to clean up the living room after the shooting those paying attention to such things will notice plenty of eighties style décor!) and the color schemes all fit perfectly here. On top of that the score that comes courtesy of Jeff Grace is heavy on synthesizers and as such, it really feels right for time frame where all of this plays out.The Blu-ray:
Cold In July arrives on Blu-ray from IFC framed at 2.40.1 and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Shot digitally, there's obviously no print damage and so we have a very clean, crisp image. Detail is typically very good throughout the movie. You'll notice this where you'd expect to in close-up shots but even medium and long distance shots allow you to take in the blood spatter on the wall of the Dane house or the dusty exteriors of Jim Bob's pig ranch. All the grit and dirt of the locations makes itself known while color reproduction stays lifelike and accurate. This isn't an over the top movie in its appearance, the camerawork is very earthy and realistic, and the transfer reflects this quite nicely. There is some very minor crush in some of the darker scenes but outside of that the disc is nicely authored. Noise reduction and edge enhancement are non-issues and all in all, the movie looks very good on Blu-ray.Sound:
The disc includes a DTS-HD 5.1 track in English, with optional subtitles available in English SDH and Spanish. This isn't a super intense action movie but there's plenty of surround activity throughout and things definitely spring to life nicely during the more action oriented scenes. Dialogue stays crisp, clear and nicely balanced in the mix while the score and the sound effects are placed quite effectively to offer up some pretty decent channel separation. Gun shots have good presence behind them and, as you'd expect from a brand new movie, there are no issues with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
The disc contains two audio commentary track, the first of which is with Jim Mickle, Michael C. Hall and Nick Damici. This is a very active track that finds Mickle talking quite a bit about how he spearheaded the project. Damici, who not only played the sheriff but also wrote the screenplay, discusses some of the challenges that came in adapting Lansdale's novel while Hall shares some thoughts on his character and some of the other actors that he worked with on the movie. It's quite an enjoyable talk. The second commentary features Mickle alongside cinematographer Ryan Samul, composer Jeff Grace and producer Linda Moran. As you might guess given the participants, this is a more technical talk with some great information about the locations used, how and why some shots were handled the way they were, what Grace was going for with his score and a lot more. Between this talk and the first commentary, there's a whole lot of valuable information about the making of this movie offered up.
Also included here is a twenty-two minute Q&A session that Mickle and Lansdale did at a theatrical screening (with George R. R. Martin in attendance). Here they field questions from the audience, discuss how the book wound up being turned into the movie, Lansdale's thoughts on the effectiveness of the big screen version and quite a bit more. The Blu-ray also features sixteen minutes of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary from Mickle explaining why they were left out of the movie. None of these are super essential but if you enjoyed the movie they're definitely worth sifting through. Also of interest will be the Pre-visualization Tests, again with optional commentary from Mickle. These are basically early versions of a few key scenes and they give some insight into the preparation and effort that goes into crafting a scene as we see it in the finished version of a movie.
Outside of that the disc also offers up an isolated version of Jeff Grace's score, the movie's theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Jim Mickle's adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's Cold In July is an excellent movie, a tense and surprising thriller that moves at a great pace and keeps us guessing throughout. The picture benefits from an excellent cast, particularly from the three male leads, and it's well shot and has an excellent score. The Blu-ray release from IFC offers up the movie in an excellent high definition presentation with very good audio and a strong array of supplements. Highly recommended.