Based on the Joe R. Lansdale novel, it opens in the midnight hour in 1989 East Texas. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) accidentally kills a lowly burglar. Dane runs a carpet store in the area and when the police identifies him as Freddy Russell, he is declared a local hero. It becomes a short celebration when ex-con Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) comes storming into town looking for vengeance on his son's death. However, Dane suspects something that the local police ran by Ray Price (Nick Damici) is hiding something when he witnesses that twist and changes the tapestry of the story.
Russell backs off Dane and enter a FBI agent, Jim Bob Luke (played slyly by Don Johnson) which sends the story due south to Houston.
Director Jim Mickle does an excellent job shooting this like a 1970's revenge thriller. Films like Death Wish came to mind with its unapologetic and violent brutality. The twists and turns alone show the true crime, it warrants cold-blooded revenge on its criminals. Even Mickle keeps the dark humor from distracting from its story that speeds things in the final bloody minutes. There is no slick cinematography but stripped down grit from the time Jim Bob enters. Handling the action choreography with substance over style and precise in humanizing the character by emphasizing the word, "fear" in their reactions.
Uniformly excellent performances across the board with Hall embodying a man that has never taken someone else's life and shows that not everyone reacts like a hero, but shaken to a point that anything could make him snap like a twig. At the same time what happens when fear is thrown out the window. Shepard should get some nods for his complex performance. Showing what a father-son relationship, the meaning of it could be turned into a double-edged sword if it merits the angry reaction of a conflicted father. Johnson always knows how to deliver on characters like Jim Bob. He is a simple man that believes in old school strategy when it comes to bending the rules of justice and dangerous with a double barrel shotgun in hand. Vinessa Shaw has never got the critical respect as an actor. I am going to be the one to tell you she was terrific as Dane's wife, Ann emphasizing the meaning of "standing by your man" but as well when Richard is having issues, knows to be a mother and a wife second at a point. To feeling the pain of this woman, something that reminded me of Maria Bello in A History of Violence.
Cold in July doesn't waver to modern filmmaking by knowing how to adopt book to film storytelling and making it as intense on screen with its excellent performances, brutal action sequences and delivering on its vengeance in cold-blooded fashion. At the end of this film, I was applauding it and that alone is rare. This is one of the best of the year. Seek it out, you will not be disappointed.