Cold in July ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Cold in July starts out as a story about revenge but turns into something else. The time is 1989 and the place East Texas. Michael C. Hall (who I remember so well as the uptight mortician in the great HBO series Six Feet Under) plays regular guy Richard Dane. There’s nothing heroic about Richard Dane. He owns a small business and has a wife and son. When an intruder breaks into the Dane home in the middle of the night, Richard goes to investigate with a loaded gun. He ends up shooting and killing the intruder on the spot. The police arrive and identify the intruder as one Freddie Russell, a known felon. As it is an open-and-shut case of self-defense, Richard isn’t charged with any crime. He believes the ugly incident is over until Freddie Russell’s father, Ben (Sam Shepard), recently released from prison himself, shows up and begins making subtle threats, threatening specifically Richard Dane’s young son, Jordan.
When Richard sees a wanted poster showing the real Freddie Russell, he knows that wasn’t the person he shot and killed. The police, for some reason, are covering up. They want the world to believe that Freddie Russell is dead when they know in fact he isn’t. Richard saves Ben’s life when the police try to kill him by drugging him and placing his body on railroad tracks. He wants to convince Ben that it wasn’t his son he killed, but Ben, of course, doesn’t believe him. When they go and exhume the body of the person believed to be Freddie, they find a mutilated corpse with its teeth ripped out and its fingertips cut off. Ben knows from the face, however, that the body is not that of his son.
Richard and Ben are joined by good-old-Texas-boy Jim Bob (Don Johnson), a private investigator who wears cowboy boots and drives a flashy red convertible. Jim Bob and Ben go way back, having served in Korea together. The three of them set out to find out what is really going on and why the police are obfuscating the mystery. What they uncover is the stuff of which nightmares are made.
Cold in July is based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. It’s well-made, with some interesting, likeable characters. The character Ben Russell is frightening at first but turns out to be a decent, if eccentric, fellow. It’s his decency that drives the story to its violent end. The one thing that bothers me is how two men are able to dig up a recently buried body in a cemetery and not be seen. Isn’t that a crime in itself? Also, why is the body only a couple of feet down instead of the customary six? I guess these are things that don’t matter because movies don’t always deal in reality.
Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp