A film review by Craig J. Koban February 18, 2019

COLD PURSUIT jjj
     

2019, R, 118 mins.

 

Liam Neeson as Nels Coxman  /  Laura Dern as Grace Coxman  /  Emmy Rossum as Kim Dash  /  Tom Bateman as Trevor 'Viking' Calcote  /  Micheal Richardson as Kyle Coxman  /  Michael Eklund as Speedo  /  Bradley Stryker as Limbo

Directed by Hans Petter Moland, based on his own 2014 Norwegian film  /  Written by Frank Baldwin

 

 

 

No beginning of the movie year would ever been complete without the annual right of passage known as the Liam Neeson seeks vengeance, takes names, and kicks ass revenge action thriller. 

It's become a staple of the veteran sixtysomething actor's career rejuvenation over the last decade-plus, which highlighted the former Oskar Schindler and Michael Collins actor get down and dirty in some fiendishly enjoyable B-grade exploitation efforts.  Yes, not all of them have worked since this movie resume retrofit for the gravel voiced actor began, but at the heart of all of them was Neeson's steadfast on-screen dependability and white knuckled intensity.  Plus, it's still giddy fun watching this aging film star lay beat downs and taking care of vermin that have wronged him and his loved ones. 

Still, there's an easy claim to be made that perhaps this Neeson action vehicle renaissance might be approaching levels of perfunctory staleness.  I guess there's only so much freshness of approach one can take with the TAKEN formula over the years before it grows tiresome and over exploited.  This brings me to COLD PURSUIT, which looks like yet another in a long lineup of TAKEN inspired wannabes with a different skin (in place of being a CIA operative, Neeson is now, yes, a lowly Colorado residing snowplow operator).  Going into this film - which is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian vigilante film IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE, unseen by me - my expectations of seeing anything decidedly against the grain of what we've seen before was pretty low.  What surprised me most, though, about COLD PURSUIT was its scripting ambitiousness, not to mention how cleverly and darkly comical this crime thriller was, all playing like some sort of weird cocktail of Tarantino and the Coen Brothers.   This is indeed a very strange film, not to mention initially laughable on a premise front (the notion of Nesson playing a snowplow man driven to bloody comeuppance seems like an instant meme generating machine), but COLD PURSUIT confidently emerges as a genre exercise with unexpected sophistication and macabre wit, and one that, most assuredly, never goes down the paths you'd expect it to. 

 

 

It might also be the first Neeson revenge thriller to begin with a quote from Oscar Wilde on the title cards ("Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go") to set the tone and mood going in.  We meet the unintentionally hilariously named snowplow operator Nils Coxman (Neeson), who spends most of his working days on the arduous run of ensuring that all roads coming into his ski resort town outside of Denver has freshly open paths after storms.  He's a beloved man within his community, having just won "Citizen of the Month" for his snow clearing efforts and for being just a heck of a swell guy in general.  He also has a loving wife in Grace (a somewhat criminally underused Laura Dern) and an adorning son, Kyle (Michael Richardson, Neeson's real life son).  However, just when everything seems ideal for this family, tragedy strikes when Kyle goes missing, only later to be found dead from a drug overdose.  Not only is their son's passing heartbreaking, but Nils and Grace can't seem to understand how Kyle died in this manner, having never been even remotely interested in drugs before. 

Nils swears to everyone that his kid was always clean, but the mounting grief that he and Grace experience over his death drive a wedge between them, leading to her leaving him.  Then fate steps in when one of Kyle's friends emerges in Nils' life - ferociously beaten to a pulp, nearly to death - to explain to the grieving dad that a mistake was made with a cocaine shipment that led to the act perpetrated by one of Denver's most vile kingpins, Viking (Tom Bateman), a sociopath that masks his crimes with a front of being a decent and legitimate businessman in other fields.  Driven to an insatiable desire to avenge his boy, Nils starts to follow a series of bread crumb like clues that will eventually take him to Viking himself, which means coming in contact with an awful lot of his underlings, meaning that killing them all is in order.  While this is happening, Viking believes that all of his henchmen showing up dead are caused by a local and rival Native American crime gang, fronted by White Bull (Tom Jackson), making matters very complicated for all.  As the two drug syndicates battle it out - with Nils caught in the middle while trying to murder Viking on his own terms - a local cop (Emmy Rossum) gets involved as well. 

COLD PURSUIT is helmed with exceedingly assured hands by Hans Petter Moland, the same director behind the Norwegian version, and it becomes clear early on that his remake of his own film contains ample atmosphere an looks visually stunning.  Featuring lush, but foreboding cinematography by Philip Ogaard, COLD PURSUIT really makes audiences feel like they've been dropped smack dab in the middle of the frosty and massively snow covered mountain vistas of Colorado.  Mixed in with the consummate filmmaking craft on display here is the manner the cagey screenplay tries to segregate itself from the litany of other Neeson revenge flicks by, as mentioned, having a wickedly dark sense of humor.  COLD PURSUIT is arguably the most unexpectedly funny of all of Neeson's aging vigilante pictures, which certainly helps change things up and makes this an entry worth savoring.  That, and it's positively daft at times and finds a novel way to make audience members laugh whenever a kill happens (most of which occur off screen).  The body count is deliriously high in COLD PURSUIT, and Moland has a rather ingenious way of celebrating them all, not with gratuitous carnage (although the film has it), but rather with a black title card showing the character's name, nickname, and then symbol for spiritual affiliation.  In a way, every death here becomes cued up punchline and something that viewers ravenously await.  Gimmicky?  Yes.  Entertaining and funny?  You betcha. 

COLD PURSUIT also has a lot more going up its sleeves on a thematic and character front than what we've come to expect in these type of angry Neeson genre pictures.  I liked the whole interplay between Viking's gang and the Native American one, which gives the film a whole different compelling undercurrent and take on cowboys versus Indians conventions and troupes.  The dynamic between all the players is intriguing as well, seeing as Viking believes the Natives are behind his crew getting picked off one by one, which Nils finds himself harnessing to his distinct advantage.  Viking himself is a droll, yet scary antagonist in his own right at the heart of everything, mostly because he's a divorced yuppie that believes in micromanaging his young son's (Nicholas Holmes) diet for his health and spoon feeding him life lessons from LORD OF THE FLIES, but at the same time is not above stone cold murder of the most extreme.  Viking is a laughable clown at times that deserves mocking, but he also has a viscous streak that commands fear. 

Moland even takes time to ensure that COLD PURSUIT is not just about Nesson's sub-zero murder- death-kill spree.  There's attention made to a wide menagerie of the film's colorful personalities on both sides of the law, giving them all a sense of surprising depth and richness.  COLD PURSUIT is superficially about double crosses and revenge, but Moland shows great joy in creating colorfully engaging and quirky low lifes in his narrative, which allows for the comparisons to the lurid crime dramas of Tarantino to creep in.  Noteworthy as well is the focus on the Native crime lord, whose gang here absconds away from traditional movie stereotypes about aboriginal people, but at the same time rightfully showcases these men as the criminals they are here.  Some of the film's more absurd comedy derives from these personas, as is the case in one sly scene involving White Bull and his clan trying to get rooms at a posh mountain retreat hotel with the hapless front desk girl thinking she has offended the gang by asking them if they have a "reservation". 

Oh, and yeah, let's not forget about Neeson either (I won't be addressing the actor's recent dumpster fire of a press junket tour for this film, during which time he perplexingly brought up a story from his youthful past when he wanted to kill the black rapist of a family member, which caught him in some very obvious and rightful hot water; I'm hear to talk about his movie, not his nonsensical and polarizing storytelling while promoting said movie).  It's pretty staggering how much he invests in this beleaguered and driven character (the umpteenth variation of it that he's played) and somehow makes it look like he's not bored to death of playing him; he's as authentically haunted, yet bloodthirstily driven as he's ever been.  If you've loved the Irish actor's previous violent payback pictures, then you'll probably gobble up COLD PURSUIT.  As for the rest of you out there that perhaps were thinking that you're tired of this recent crop of Neesonian grindhouse endeavors, than you'll be pleasantly surprised with his latest, which audaciously goes to bizarre places and weird story plateaus that I frankly wasn't anticipating, much to its credit.     

And yes, (SPOILER WARNING) people die via snowplow, so Neeson can absolutely add that to his roster of characters that have "a particular set of skills." 

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