The triptych of masculinities at the core of director Jim Mickle’s Sundance hit Cold in July (he co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Damici) pull double duty; they lead the viewer down a nerve-wracking rabbit hole of violence, gore, and clever throwaway wisecracks while anchoring the film’s sly musing on what constitutes a real man.
Set in East Texas, 1989, with exquisite attention to period detail, the film is in many ways a coming-of-age tale for the three adult men at its center. After he kills the burglar who breaks into his family’s home one night, the preternaturally nervous Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) is consumed with guilt. His near-crippling remorse does nothing, however, to appease the burglar’s hoodlum dad, Russell (Sam Shepard), who wants revenge.
An escalating cat-and-mouse game between the two is made worse by the ineptitude of the cops, who can’t seem to protect Richard’s family. A hard left plot-twist after the cops finally arrest Russell spins the film into concentric circles of cover-ups, organized crime, and an especially brutal reveal about the secret life of Russell’s son. Mickle directs with cool assurance, moodiness, and droll humor with edge-of-the-seat moments nicely scored by Jeff Grace.
While Hall and Shepard nail their parts, Don Johnson, still magnetic after all these years, steals the film as a sardonic private eye with a vintage cherry-red convertible.