A High-Octane Movie for Your Weekend

Cold in July (Mickle, 2014)

If you overlooked this really good independent film and you like your action with a dose of moral ambiguity, slot Cold in July for weekend viewing.

It’s an American noir film set in a 1980s Texas town containing enough intellectual heft for some and plenty of raw guy emotion and vengeful violence to satisfy most. The moral ambiguity rides along with everyday guy Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, of Dexter fame), while Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) and Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson, really terrific), along with Dane, furnish the slaughter.

In the middle of the night, a sound awakens Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw), who rouses husband Richard. Richard goes to the closet, takes down a box containing a revolver. He loads it with shaking hands, then creeps to the downstairs, where he finds the B&E guy. The fellow shines a flashlight in Richard’s eyes, panicking Richard, who accidentally pulls the trigger. The cops show up and though reassured constantly by Det. Ray Price (Nick Damici) that he fired in self defense, Richard agonizes over the fact that he killed a man. 

Turns out Richard killed Freddy Russell (Wyatt Russell), son of bad guy Ben Russell, who has just been released from prison. Ben’s a man who holds a grudge. So troubled by the shooting, Richard shows up at Freddy’s burial, where Ben threatens him. Later, Ben compounds the terror by breaking into Richard’s house while the police surround it.

Eventually, the cops capture Ben and everything seems resolved. But wait, a twist intrudes, when Richard discovers the cops spiriting Ben from the jail and leaving him unconscious on the railroad tracks minutes before a train appears on the horizon. Richard can’t allow another man to die, even bad to the bone Ben. Also, by this time, Richard suspects he didn’t kill Freddy but a stand-in. Something’s very wrong here, he’s thinking.

After exhuming the substitute Freddy, he convinces Ben he didn’t kill his son. Ben enlists his friends help solving the riddle. Enter Jim Bob Luke in a bright red caddy. This unlikely grouping forms a friendly alliance. Jim Bob’s a pig farmer and private eye, who uncovers the truth. Freddy indeed lives, having turned Fed informer on the Dixie Mafia (apparently a real thing; who knew?). He’s now in the witness protection program, a lowlife now shielded by the cops. Worse, Freddy’s engaged in making snuff movies (unfortunately a reality). This offends Richard, Jim Bob, and especially Ben’s sense of morality, and they take action, bloody action.

So, there you have it, Richard, at first depressed at shooting the fake Freddy, transforming into an avenger, joining Jim Bob and Ben, who already operate on the margins of the law (corrupt in this film), deciding what warrants, morally warrants, extreme intervention. Quite good stuff and thought-provoking, if you step back from the action a bit. w/c

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