Movie Review - Cold in July

Michael C. Hall stars as Richard Dane, a husband and father of a 5 or 6-year-old. Richard runs a store and lives in East Texas. It's the year 1989. One summer night, a home invasion leads to a shooting leaving the intruder dead and blood on Richard's hands.

Directed and co-written by Jim Mickle (We Are What We Are), based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, this film follows the aftermath and consequences of that shooting. Those consequences include a series of events that are a virtual copy of Cape Fear (1962). Some might recall the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991. Yet, it evolves into something more in the spirit of Clint Eastwood meets Quentin Tarantino.

Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff and Mud) co-stars as Ben Russell, a man who's out for revenge after he's let out of prison. Don Johnson (Nash Bridges and Miami Vice) plays an old friend of Ben as well as a private investigator named Jim Bob. Ben and Jim Bob team up to uncover a conspiracy. These guys are over-the-hill but the fun and the thrill come from watching them essentially be action stars. It never rises to the level of Stallone in The Expendables, but a similar appeal is there.

Given this appeal, this film goes to a place that I didn't appreciate. The first hour is fantastic, the second half is not. If done differently, the first hour and indeed whole movie could have been an interesting parable for the stand-your-ground or castle laws. Instead, what Mickle and possibly Lansdale wanted was to create a modern-day Western, one that could have risen to the heights of No Country for Old Men (2007) but doesn't quite make it.

The film first tries to negate the revenge trope that murder or violence is the solution to a situation that ends deadly, regardless of whether it's intentional or accidental. Yet, the ending reverses that.

Ben wants revenge against Richard who accidentally shot and killed his son Freddy, played by Wyatt Russell (We Are What We Are). In a turn of events, Richard is able to mitigate that revenge, but the actions of both men after the turn of events make no sense, leaving the audience with the message that murder and violence is the solution, which is terrible.

Ben is nearly killed and the reasoning for why is puzzling. We're led to distrust the local Texas police, but that distrust is only there because the screenplay needed that distrust. The distrust doesn't come from any logical spot, at least not one that's depicted on screen. As a result, the film points to a bigger bad guy about which it ultimately doesn't care.

There is a revelation about Freddy that opens the door to exploring all the things that went wrong in both Ben's life and especially Freddy's. Instead, the movie just uses the revelation as a line pulling the audience into more and intense situations of violence.

As far as Richard goes, there comes a point where he can and should step away. Yet, he doesn't, almost as if he's growing an addiction or experiencing an allure to violence. The question is why. We see that Richard has a temper, a short one, but it's difficult to extrapolate how that translates to him engaging in extreme vigilante justice.

The facade or the seemingly legitimate reason for doing what he does is totally abandoned. He states a reason, but even in his saying it, it's obvious that he's basically lying. Given his guilt and his compassion, it makes no sense why he starts to go down this road. Is he bored or frustrated with his life? Who knows?

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.


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