I admit it – I’m a huge Jim Mickle fan. Right from the filmmaker’s debut with the best of the 8 Films To Die For flick titled "Mulberry St.," there was obvious evidence of skilled craftsmanship. Following it up with the dark and visceral "Stake Land" and the five-star slow burn cannibal yarn "We Are What We Are" (firmly on my Top Ten list last year) showed that Mickle was not some hack – his genius was no fluke. So it’s fitting that his latest outing "Cold In July," based on the novel by "Bubba Ho-Tep" short story scribe Joe R. Lansdale, keeps in tone the director’s master of mood moniker but also sports a genre defying story that screams unique.
Richard Dane is a family man who has a peaceful life - he owns a framing business, has a nice home and a loving family he adores. But one night he and his wife awaken from sleep to hear a noise out in the living room and an armed Richard checks it out. Turns out there is an intruder and after a scare from the clock Richard shoots the man dead by accident. The victim turns out to be the son of a newly released ex-con Russell and he’s not happy.
The above is only the first part of the richly complex tale of "Cold In July," but it’s all I’m revealing. A huge part of the appeal of Lansdale’s story and in turn Mickle’s vision is the ability to keep the audience guessing, off guard and on the edge of their seat and both avenues here deliver handsomely. The story weaves from revenge tale to murder mystery to all out action yarn in the space of a mere one hundred and nine minutes. In the hands of any other director it could have been a cinematic disaster, but Mickle is never one to back down from a challenge. Meshing his already famed aptitude for atmosphere that’s dark (not to mention a heavy 80’s influence on this material) with the twists and turns of Lansdale’s sick work is a match made in heaven. But credit also has to be given to the three lead men of this tale – all of which shine for different reasons. Coming off of the flashy "Dexter," Michael C. Hall surprisingly plays the straight man of the trio, in kind of a thankless role of playing the audience’s reaction to the films’ events. Sam Shepard also stands out in one of his most surly and dark roles to date as a father out for some kin closure. But it’s the gleeful work by the highly underrated Don Johnson that burns brightest here, with the former "Miami Vice" icon creating a gumshoe that stops the show. Johnson relishes every moment and frame – and so does the audience.
For those who like their flicks laid out, linear and lean this may not be your cup of tea, but for those yearning for a picture that cleanses the mediocre movie palate it’s only good news. Mickle and company have created something that feels authentically different that thankfully and unapologetically leaves all safe bets out in the cold.