The opening image of Cold In July is of a barren wilderness, until the camera pulls back revealing a picture frame, and the domestic mantelpiece above which this landscape painting hangs. It is late at night in East Texas, 1989 - and jittery Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), still barefoot and in his pyjamas, accidentally shoots dead a young burglar, splattering his brains all over the painting.
"I hear you got you one last night," says the local mailman to Richard the following morning. "I couldn't believe it was you, at first - I didn't think you had it in you." Richard cannot quite believe it himself. A family man devoted to his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) and young son Jordan (Brogan Hall), this 'upright citizen' serves the community with his picture framing business - which makes him quick to spot another kind of frame being mounted by the police investigating the burglar's death.