For reasons which passeth understanding, cinema has long overlooked Texas-born crime writer Joe R Lansdale. His books are lean, grimly comic and packed with the sort of sudden violence, boisterous anti-heroism and crackling dialogue that Hollywood producers claim to love, but somehow, short of the atypical ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’, his work has remained un-adapted – until now. ‘Cold in July’ is Lansdale in excelsis, a relentless tale of small-town treachery spiralling into bloody vengeance. And in the hands of ‘We Are What We Are’ director Jim Mickle, it’s become one of the year’s best indie thrillers.
‘Dexter’ star Michael C Hall plays Richard, the happily married picture framer whose life takes an ugly turn when he shoots an intruder point blank in his living room. It’s not long before the dead boy’s hard-bitten daddy (Sam Shepard) comes looking for payback – but who is the corpse the cops have just wheeled away? And why is everyone so keen for Richard to just shut his mouth and forget the whole thing?
‘Cold in July’ is a proud throwback to the early ‘90s indie-crime boom: think ‘The Last Seduction’, ‘One False Move’ and ‘Fargo’. It’s rolling in great, punchy scenes, meaty performances (Don Johnson’s stetsoned shitkicker PD is a hoot) and bold, unexpected twists, while also finding time for those quiet, heartfelt character moments that bring a story to life. Any film that teams up gruffer-than-thou icons Shepard and Johnson is bound to go heavy on the testosterone, but Mickle undercuts all this strident manliness with a rich vein of self-mocking wit and paternal angst. In the end, this is a film about what it means to be a father – and the conclusions ain’t pretty.