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Film Review: In East Texas, Blood Runs 'Cold In July'

courtesy: IFC Films

There's a deliberate seediness to the Texas noir Cold in July that makes it both entertaining and calculating. Directed by Jim Mickle, it stars Michael C. Hall as Richard, an ordinary man around whom extraordinarily violent things happen, all triggered by an act of self-defense that leaves a home intruder dead and his living room splattered with brain matter like a Jackson Pollock.

The police identify the dead man as an ex-con named Freddy whose only living relative is his father, Russell (Sam Shepard), himself just out of prison. Though the townsfolk hold Richard up to be a hero, he resists the label and attends his victim's funeral to assuage his guilt. He's confronted by Russell in a vague yet menacing way and shortly thereafter discovers that his home security has been breached again - but this time by the grieving father.

Following Russell's arrest, Richard gets the impression that the man he shot wasn't really Freddy with the police's insistence that he is a key to something hidden and nefarious. Suspicious, too, is the police's attempt to stage Russell's death. When Richard comes to Russell's rescue (in one of the film's many convenient and slightly incredulous scenes where one car closely tails another unbeknownst to the driver of the former), the unlikely duo form an odd alliance whose mission is to find the real Freddy.

The film jeers into black comedy by having a reckless pig farmer named Jim Bob (a grizzled, funny Don Johnson) aid them in their pursuit. Alas, Freddy (Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, who seems to have character development in his genes) doesn't turn out to be a harmless lost child - in fact, he makes snuff films and Russell's hope for an overdue reunion sours into feelings closer to retribution if not fratricide.

What elevates the movie above the run-of-the-mill are the prickly as barbed wire performances of Hall, Shepard and Johnson; Mickle's taut and suspenseful direction and screenplay, co-written by Nick Damici; and Ryan Samuel's inventive cinematography. To the latter, Samuel's use of the simultaneous deep and tight focus gives a final shootout the illusion of split screen which, as Brian De Palma fans know, always heightens the tension and adrenaline while giving the audience an unusual peek inside.

Cold In July| Dir. Jim Mickle | 109 minutes | Playing at Tivoli Cinemas in Westport, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Mo.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
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