Cold in July

Jun 2, 2014

A terrifying and comical noir  well worth seeing.

Cold in July

Grade: A-

Director: Jim Mickle (Mulberry St)

Screenplay: Nick Damici (Stake Land) from Joe R. Lansdale novel

Cast: Michael C. Hall (Kill Your Darlings), Sam Shepard (Out of the Furnace)

Rating: R

Runtime: 109 min.

by John DeSando

“Sometimes the good guy wins."

Start with Cape Fear, then merge into Killer Joe with a side Touch of Evil, and you will have an inkling of how macabre and comical Cold in July can be. It uses most of the familiar neo-noir bases including being set in East Texas  in the ‘80’s.  Revenge is the name of this game--director Jim Mickle paces the suspense and blood just about right.

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) and his family experience a home invasion, for which Richard kills the intruder point blank. The murder seems reasonable until the corpse’s dad, Ben Russel (Sam Shepard, more laconic and bad than ever), shows up just out of prison to menace the Danes for the death of his son. Yet as usual in pulpy noir, not all is as it seems including the motives of the local law enforcers and the identity of the dead “son.”

Add to the grimy mix the Dixie Mafia, who produce snuff videos using young girls. Russel is affected because the scenario involves his son (even bad guys get the blues).

The revenge formula ramps up considerably and the film becomes gleefully unglued with the advent of Don Johnson’s swaggering detective, Jim Bob.  His red Caddy convertible with the steer horn on the grille and his florid outfits signal an outsized noir character channeling Matthew McConaughey from Killer Joe with a touch of Orson Welles’ evil south of the border. A  pig farmer, Jim Bob is hilarious as the swashbuckling, cheesy hunter. But make no mistake—he can give physically as good as he gets with some impressive sleuth work to boot.

The center of the darkness is Richard, a seemingly solid citizen who has the ambiguous demons usually reserved for the noir hero (think of Bogey’s characters). His strong revulsion at the murder passes into something less than that but more than just vigilantism. Anyway, the blood bath at the end is worth seeing for its noir excess and dark humor.

Very few characters in this delightful summer indie get out unscathed, and some indeed find July very cold.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at