Book To Film Review: Cold In July by Joe R. Lansdale
Cold In July, one of Joe Lansdale’s first crime novels, has recently been turned into a film released in select cites and On Demand. When I saw the moody vampire movie Stakeland by the filmaking duo Nick Danci and Jim Mickle (Danci directs, Mickle acts, they both write the script), it looked like they could handle Joe’s dark East Texas world. The film proved they could.
The film starts out much like the book. Everyman, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), shoots an intruder in his house. The perp’s father, Russel, played like a snake always ready to strike by Sam Shepard, has just got out of prison and stalks Dane and his family Cape Fear-style. If that wasn’t enough, when Dane sees the photo of Russel’s son, it isn’t the man he shot, although the shady sheriff (Micklel) insists otherwise.
From there on out, we get twists, turns, and reversals aplenty. This is where Mickle and Danci had their work cut out for them in the adaptation. A few of those twists, including one very major one, are the kind that often work better on the page than on screen. Lansdale’s style and use of interior monologue have us buy what is hard to sell if it was just played out in front of us. Danci and Mickle make a few changes that make it both plausible and fitting in tone with the novel.
It’s after that major reversal when we get into full gear with some help from Don Johnson. He plays Jim Bob, a good ol’ boy private eye and pig farmer brought in to help out. He plays him with a laid back bravado and good natured swagger fitting the character. You’re always looking forward to him speaking. Johnson may have been born to play Sonny Crockett, but he was supposed to grow up to be a Joe Lansdale character.
Cold In July satisfies from all directions. It works as an involving dark, hard-boiled flick shot in a style that recalls thrillers from the Eighties, but never overwhelms it. It should please Lansdale fans, capturing his characters, tone, and go-wherever-the-hell-you-feel attitude. It’s been reported that Danci and Mickle are developing a a series with Joe’s Hap Leonard characters. Cold In July is proof the series couldn’t be in better hands.