Cold in July: On Location in The Hudson River Valley

Don Johnson is back; in a good way… In recent years he’s cultivated a new identity as a respected character actor, with roles for Robert Rodriguez in Machete, Danny McBride in HBO’s Eastbound & Down, Quentin Tarantino’s fabulous Big Daddy in Django Unchained, and his recent success as Jim Bob in Jim Mickle’s pulp thriller, Cold in July. The memories of a guy who rose to the top on his looks, his wardrobe, and an alligator named Elvis, may have finally faded.

Cold in July is full of plot twists, and feels somewhat searching for a genre for the first half. It looks like a clear cut psycho thriller for the for 30 minutes or so, set in a steamy backwoods 1980’s Texas, with Michael C. Hall as the protagonist. Hall plays Richard Dane, a mild-mannered everyman, who fatally shoots an intruder in his home. It’s clear early on that something is not right with the story the police are telling him and the real identity and intent of the intruder. Conveniently, the father of the victim, Ben Russell, portrayed by Sam Shepard, has just been released from prison and confronts Richard with clear intent of revenge.

The tone dramatically and comedically changes the moment Johnson pulls up in his fiery red ragtop Cadillac (complete with vanity plate proclaiming the car to be the ‘Red Bitch’), clad in a honky-tonk cowboy getup as Podunk private eye Jim Bob Luke. Mr. Luke is a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed Korean war vet / PI / hog farmer who knows Hapkido, an eclectic form of martial art he apparently picked up when he was “over there,” and cheerfully refers to Hispanics in such endearing terms as “Frito” and “Chili Lips.” He’s a hoot. And Don Johnson pulls it off with swagger.

Rich finds himself drawn into an unlikely alliance with Ben and Jim Bob in a quest for answers and a kind of justice that’s simultaneously pure and perverted.  What that justice means, and what it costs, is the film’s true subject. Adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s novel by Mickle and his frequent collaborator Nick Damici, Cold in July is southern-fried Greek tragedy.

Filmed in The Hudson Valley, Kingston, NY subbed for back-woods East Texas. The Hudson Valley is no stranger to Hollywood takeovers. Every few years, some sector of the Hudson Valley gets pegged as the New Hamptons, or Un-Hamptons, or New Williamsburg, or Breukelen North, spurring a rush of location scouts and casting directors to the area. The Hudson Valley Film Commission (HVFC) — which covers Ulster County, Dutchess County, and Orange County — reported that they worked on 72 projects in 2013, including feature films, TV shows and series, shorts, student shorts, music videos, industrials, documentaries, and still shoots.

Read more about where to stay/eat/shop The Hudson Valley in our Hudson Valley On Location Guides, and see our highlighted HV features: Return to Glenmere, Veggie Yogurt, and Historic Hudson Valley Estates.

Kimberly Varney

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