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Movie review: ‘Cold in July’ heats up the crime genre
Review » Slow burn yields results in Texas noir thriller.
First Published May 29 2014 03:02 pm • Last Updated May 31 2014 02:06 pm

Director Jim Mickle and his writing partner, Nick Damici, have built a nice career proving that "genre filmmaking" is nothing to be ashamed of, or apologize for.

Their vampire thriller "Stake Land" was an exciting post-apocalyptic tale; their follow-up, "We Are What We Are," about a cannibal family, was a brooding and creepy addition to the horror canon.

At a glance

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‘Cold in July’

A family man shoots a burglar, and finds himself caught up in a web of lies, in this tense crime thriller.

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When » Opens Friday, May 30.

Rating » Not rated, but probably R for strong violence, sexual content, and language.

Running time » 110 minutes.

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Now, with "Cold in July," Mickle and Damici put a thoughtful, dynamic spin on Southern-fried film noir.

It’s 1989 in East Texas, and mild-mannered family man Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) finds a burglar in his living room. Carrying his dad’s old pistol, he shoots nervously — and right in the head. The detective on the case, Lt. Ray Price (played by Damici), declares it an open-and-shut case of self-defense.

But it’s not so simple, particularly when the burglar’s father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), starts harassing the Dane family. Dane trusts Price to take care of Russell — until he learns some secrets that upend everything he believes and trusts.

Soon Dane and Russell become reluctant allies, both eager to learn the truth. They get some help from Russell’s friend Jim Bob, a flamboyant Texas private eye who, in the fearsome person of Don Johnson, gets one of the best entrances a character could hope for outside a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Mickle and Damici, adapting a Joe R. Lansdale novel, turn the screws slowly but steadily, dropping one surprise after another in this thriller. They increase the stakes to gut-wrenching levels and balance deep drama with flashes of humor.

(When the movie debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Mickle admitted that one scene he and Damici had written wasn’t working well — so Shepard, who’s equally famous as a playwright as he is as an actor, offered to try his hand at it. The result, a moment when Russell steels himself for the climactic showdown, is a jewel of minimalist intensity.)

Shepard and Johnson give solid performances as the cagey old-timers, who have seen too much and don’t need to talk about it. They’re well-matched by Hall, who sheds his "Dexter" persona to give a powerful, well-modulated performance as Richard transforms gradually from accidental killer to bloody avenger.

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