“Why shoot a movie in Texas? Because Evil thrives in Texas”

The Coen Brothers

 

Did you know that there is a “Dixie Mafia?” Neither did I, and neither did poor Richard Dane, (Michael C.Hall) a small Texas town picture framer who lives on the edge of nowhere in West Texas in 1989.

In Jim Mickle and Nick Damici’s Tex-Mex noir “Cold in July,” Dane finds out in the worst of circumstances, when he is awakened one night by an intruder. He calms his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and gets his gun out of the closet, loads it, confronts his burglar and caps him with one shot. The cops come, (Nick Damici giving himself an extra job) clean up the mess and congratulate Mr. Dane. Case closed. We know it’s not. We know this is Texas. We’ve been here before, notably in the Coen Brother’s 1984 “Blood Simple,” and in many others.

Richard Dane, a quiet, almost shaky guy who had trouble loading his gun, was for most of his picture framing adulthood, ignored by his neighbors. Now he’s a local hero. Not a parade hero, just someone to be respected and feared.

But of course, this is Texas, and we know we’re in noir land, and we suspect the sheriff detective is too calming, too polite. He smells of something other than drugstore cologne. We’re right.

Enter the father of the dead burglar, (the great iconic Sam Shepard) Ben Russel, who has just been paroled from prison, who is in town, hanging around Dane’s house and his child’s school. He’s not as frightening as De Niro in “Cape Fear,” but he wears the same sunglasses and the next thing you know, he’s inside Dane’s house, in thunder storms and fog, leaving bullets scattered around the kid’s bedroom.

The cops find him and lock him up. Dane should be comforted, but he’s gotten smart, which tells us he came to Texas from somewhere else.

The picture he’s shown of his intruder isn’t the intruder.

Late that night when he checks on the jail, he sees the sheriff and his crew taking old Ben out the backdoor. He follows, and sees them drugging him and putting him on a railroad track. Wouldn’t you know that our Richard, a good Christian, saves his victim’s father, and sits him down for a good talk. Daddy still wants his revenge. But when forced to help Richard dig up the grave, he sees that it is indeed, not his son Wyatt (Freddy Russel)

Thus, “Cold” takes the shape of an off kilter “Buddy Movie,” and shortly after, it becomes “Three Amigos,” when Shepherd phones an old war buddy for help.

You’ll never guess who shows up in a candy red convertible, sporting a private eye badge and Lyndon Johnson cowboy hat. OMG. It’s the wonderful Don Johnson, who made his break-out-of-the-doldrums debut in “Django Unchained.” Here, he is good old boy Jim Bob, wouldn’t you know, a pig farmer detective coming to help the buddy who saved his life in Korea. Johnson is the comedy relief here. He has an early cellphone in his convertible, an array of weapons, and he is ready to cook. We love him at once. We respect Shepherd, we sympathize with Hall, but we LOVE Don Johnson. I see a series in the making for Jim Bob.

When our movie gets cooking, the seamy side of Texas starts bubbling up. Ben’s son is indeed alive and working in the porno snuff movie business with the Dixie Mafia, a really bad, evil bunch of very large locos who wear prison tattoos like sun block. Murder and drugs are here, and in a “Sundance and Butch” finale, we get a satisfying shoot out. All will not survive. This will be the first time, father meets son since son was a baby. Choices will be made.

The Mickle and Damici script, based of course and it’s obvious, on the great Joe R.Lansdale’s novel, is perfect.

Pace is very important in film noir, and these boys know that. Ryan Samul’s camera knows when to hide and when to cut and run, Jeff Grace’s music is properly scary with a bottom land beat.

But it’s the perfectly blended cast: Michael C.Hall dumps his serial killer “Dexter” and segues into Mr. Nice Guy, nicely.

Sam Shepherd, one of America’s great playwrights, has polished the dark stoic stranger character to high glow, and we look forward to seeing him every time.

But WE LOVED Jim Bob Johnson, we loved his pearl buttoned shirt, cheap Stetson, forest fire red convertible and plate sized belt buckle, and so will you.

“Cold in July” is hot in May, and will be all summer.

 

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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