Thu, 07 Mar 2019
Cold Pursuit (15)
Running time 1hr 15min
ONE might be led to believe that, absent a bizarre gaffe by star Liam Neeson during the film’s promotion, Cold Pursuit might’ve gone down as a middle-of-the-road revenge thriller. Alas, things were always going to be more complicated than that.
Director Hans Petter Moland, a Norwegian filmmaker whose work is tinged with a vein of quintessentially Scandinavian ink-black comedy, intended bigger things for his Hollywood debut; it’s a film one can view in all manner of ways, and Neeson’s tales of racist revenge ideation only imbue it with another layer of troubling subtext. The past few years have seen a renaissance in Scandi-noir adaptations (The Snowman, The Girl in the Spider’s Web), despite the genre having lost much of its international appeal; Cold Pursuit, an English-language remake of Moland’s own Kraftidioten, sticks squarely to the director’s original vision, moving the action from snowy Norway to frost-bitten Colorado while otherwise maintaining its predecessor’s plot, its mindless violence and its air of nihilistic absurdity. While some will come to Cold Pursuit seeking yet another helping of grisly Neesonian mayhem, the screenplay gleefully twists the premise every which way, delivering bold, occasionally
ingenious satirical flourishes before upping the body count for a more conventional third act.
Neeson plays the outrageously-named Nels Coxman, a snowplough driver and all-round law-abiding
citizen – such a pinnacle of his community, in fact, that they’re set to proclaim him Citizen of the Year. The award ceremony is disrupted, however, by news of his son’s death, apparently from a heroin overdose; it soon transpires that he was, in fact, killed by the local mob, led by the unhinged ‘Viking’ (Tom Bateman). After dispatching (in a gloriously remorseless set piece) a trio of cartel enforcers, Nels inadvertently provokes a war between Viking’s gang and White Bull (Tom Jackson), an Amerindian drug lord. What ensues is a braindead orgy of gruesome violence, with the perpetually-scowling Nels always waiting in the wings to pick at the carcasses of dead thugs.
But wait, there’s more. Moland is evidently a Coen Brothers fan and he tries for a Fargo-esque subplot involving Emmy Rossum’s cop, as in most films of its ilk, the police of Cold Pursuit are always a few steps behind the protagonist, giving Nels plenty of time to cut a bloody swathe across the wintery landscape. Less successful is an interlude involving Nels’ hitman brother, Brock (William Forsythe. Forsythe, once a very prolific performer, is criminally underused in one of his first
mainstream roles in donkey’s years. None other than Laura Dern is roped in to portray Nels’ troubled wife, but we see very little of her outside of the first act – you could read her absence as a sly comment on the preposterous hypermasculinity of the vigilante genre, but that would probably be giving Moland the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day, this is
a Neeson vehicle through-and-through, and the (rightly derided) star sends himself up with a degree of efficacy – the ludicrous sense of desolation and despair conjured by the screenplay (and by the movie’s frozen locales) provides a stomping ground fit for the Irish actor’s particular talents, and he emerges as an action-comedy T-Rex, rampaging across gangland in a quest not of redemption, but of macabre self-satisfaction.
Cold Pursuit is a peculiar, occasionally fun entry in the revenge canon, a bit too savvy for Taken fans just as it falls decidedly short of the greats (Death Wish, Taxi Driver).