A film doesn’t necessarily have to be good to be entertaining. That is the saving grace for Cold in July. Set in East Texas in 1989, Richard Dane, mild-mannered family man (Michael C. Hall), is awoken in the middle of the night by an intruder in his home. With the intention of protecting his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) and young son Jordan he ends up shooting said intruder dead. He is understandably uncomfortable with how the night has gone, but police and friends in the small community reassure him that he had no choice in the matter and that he is a hero of sorts for pulling the trigger. Still racked with guilt he decides to view the burial of the intruder. The man had no family to speak of, except a father that has been in and out of state penitentiary for many years. Richard thinks he will be the only person there outside of county officials. That is when he first meets Russel, the father. Russel (Sam Shepard) is none-too-happy with his son’s untimely demise. This is when the flick goes full on Cape Fear. Sam Shepard is a great actor, but let’s face it… he is no Robert Mitchum.
We have a contrived first act of Russel toying with the family just to prove some point that is never fully established. Richard soon starts to suspect that the man he killed might not be the son of Russel at all and that it was all a cover-up by the local police. This is when the film starts to go off the rails (for better or worse). This is when we all get to meet ex-con, Jim Bob (played by Don Johnson, stealing the show). The three start to piece together the conspiracy to cover up the abhorrent actions of this supposedly dead man who might just be in the witness protection program.
Jim Bob, Russel, and Richard become a rag-tag vigilante force out to set these wrongs right. The film turns into a cross between a Charles Bronson flick and a Coen brothers’ film (if the Coens lacked subtly or any real cinematic skill). The character’s motivations change on a whim and the ones that remain consistent are wholly unlikeable. Why Ann is so unbelievable cold and uncaring to her clearly shaken husband is never addressed. Perhaps we are supposed to just understand that they have marital problems, but again… just never addressed. Richard also seems to be able to just leave his small business running a framing shop to go shoot up bad guys with two insane Texas outlaw stereotypes with no one asking why. It is all very silly.
While never truly coherent nor flowing especially well Cold in July also never loses the audience’s attention. It is brash, dumb, and haphazardly edited but also willing to admit all of those things. Given director Jim Mickle’s last effort (American remake of We Are What We Are) I can only assume he thought he was going to be making an homage to Blood Simple and ended up with something a little closer to Hobo with a Shotgun. In Straw Dogs we get an amazing scene of Dustin Hoffman blaring bagpipe music and brandishing a fire poker and shotgun to show that he was no longer a passive man. That scene kicked ass. Seeing Michael C. Hall get beaten up by a dude and accidentally shooting that man through his hand and face, splattering blood on the overhead light making the whole room turn crimson, to make that point is a little too on the nose for my taste. Personally, I found the whole thing a touch too silly but there is certainly an audience out there for this kind of storytelling. I suppose I am just saying that this not a bad film… just kind of a dumb one that could use a little less self importance and a whole lot more of Don Johnson’s character. Actually, I would love to see a Jim Bob spin-off. That would be the best.
Cold in July is currently playing at Enzian.