The opening scenes of Jim Mickle’s Cold in July sets you up for a classic Cape Fear revenge-style thriller. Quiet Texan family man, Richard Dane, played by Michael C Hall, wakes up to find an intruder inside his home and his split-second reaction, as he fumbles with the unfamiliar gun in his hand, changes his life forever.
A nightmare scenario builds, with suspense added from the pulsing synthesised score, as he is stalked by ex-con Russell who believes Dane has killed his son and wants revenge. But when Dane becomes suspicious of the police handling of his case, the plot suddenly switches direction and heroes and villains swap places. It’s a clever twist that pulls you into a pulp noir world of police corruption, murderous pornography and violence. Dane becomes involved with a swaggering private detective Jim Bob, flamboyantly and amusingly played by Don Johnson, a counterpoint to Sam Shepard’s monosyllabic Russell, and the unlikely threesome set out on a mission to confront the dark and trigger-happy underworld of the Texan backwater. The inevitable end is a bloody shoot-out and some graphic scenes of violence.
The film raises a number of serious issues about gun ownership, police corruption and justice, although the moral ambiguities are left to the audience to untangle. Children of the eighties will appreciate the mullets and moustaches, and details including the ‘portable phone’, the now extinct video shops and the Apple Macintosh SE.