Cold in July is the story of a man who, having once peered into the rabbit hole and inadvertently set one foot inside it, cannot bring himself to turn away. Michael C. Hall stars as Richard Dane, a Texas everyman who shoots an intruder into his home and is subsequently terrorized by the dead man’s ex-con father, Russel (Sam Shepard). But is the dead man really dead? If not, who occupies the coffin, and why would the authorities assign a false identity to the corpse? Dane and Russel discover together that the world is not as it seems; and, teaming with earthy private detective (and pig farmer) Jim Bob (Don Johnson), they set out on a western-flavored, neo-noir odyssey in search of the truth – and, ultimately, violently ironic justice.
Notwithstanding its humor and undisguised pop flourishes, Cold in July is a serious film with strong performances all around. Johnson’s screen presence particularly, far from having faded in the years since Miami Vice, has taken on a new depth and authenticity, so that he brings a great deal of color and masculine clout to the film. Hall is 100% convincing as the man in over his head, while Shepard’s turn is comparatively understated but no less essential to the success of the whole. Pleasantly, an attempt has been made to match the film stylistically with its 1980s setting, so that viewers are treated to a period-faithful electronic score and some elegant, crowd-pleasing slow-motion shots.
Highly recommended. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cold in July is:
5. Anti-porn. Young women pursuing this trade place their lives at considerable risk.
4. Pro-immigration. “Prostitutes cross the border illegally and nobody cares” – after which they are lured into starring in snuff films, the presumptive implication being that if America had a compassionate immigration policy that was not so “broken”, Mexican women would not be forced to demean and endanger themselves in order to access the American Dream. Mariachi musicians illustrate the vibrant diversity Mexicans offer.
3. Gun-ambivalent. The film strongly suggests that Dane would be a happier man had he not shot the burglar invading his home, and he subsequently disapproves of his young son’s toy gun play. A pistol also appears as a danger and liability in the hands of the emotionally distraught. Guns feature prominently and excitingly in the vigilante action of the conclusion, however.
2. State-skeptical. Part of Dane’s journey of discovery is the realization that his government is not what he imagined. In this context, Russel’s line “All I know is what I’m told” carries more than a surface resonance. In a minor, local way, Dane is initiated into the ugly reality of conspiracy. Scenes deleted from the final cut of the film show FBI agents tailing him. In one scene, a drive-in is playing Night of the Living Dead, a reference which reinforces the themes of paranoia and government cover-ups.
1. Pro-family. Dane is a committed father and husband. Discounting Jim Bob’s diagnosis of married men as “poor bastards”, Cold in July communicates the necessity of the intact family for the well-adjusted existence of an individual or a society. Without obnoxiously articulating the point, the film suggests that Russel’s son has chosen a path of evil as a result of not having had a father during his developmental years.