Review: Cold Pursuit

This 2019 American black comedy thriller is directed by Hans Petter Moland as a remake of his own native 2014 vigilante film ‘In Order of Disappearance’ and stars Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman , Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi and Laura Dern.

Mild-mannered Kehoe snowplough driver and “Citizen Of The Year” Nels Coxman (Neeson) lives a sedate life with his wife Grace (Dern) and son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) in the snowy Colorado ski-town. When tragedy falls on the family when Kyle gets involved with drug kingpin known as Viking (Bateman), Nels world falls to pieces. With no light at the end of the tunnel, and with nothing that Detective Kim Dash (Rossum) can do, all looks bleak for Nels. But he discovers a lead that takes him to a drug dealer, and then snowballs into a violent and merciless hunt for Viking, even bringing his brother, Brock (Forsythe), a former cartel hitman, to help him exact cold-blooded revenge whatever the cost…

Don’t go into this expecting ‘Taken’. Don’t go into this expecting ‘Unknown’. Go into this expecting Liam Neeson to kick ass, but with far less mindless brutality and far fewer edits in the action scenes. And expect Neeson’s character to happily show his age for once when he gets out of breath in the snow-capped mountains beating a drug dealer’s face in.

Welcome to a strangely beautifully framed and oddly humoured vigilante thriller by Hans Petter Moland, remaking his own Norwegian film in his Hollywood directing debut. This whole set-up is anything but original and you’ll feel on familiar ground via the marketing of this. Neeson in the sights of a sniper scope, the violent cuts, the grizzly voice and lots of bang for your buck. It’s all there, except it feels a little too well executed (pardon the pun) to put alongside your choppy ‘Taken’ trilogy. The first thing you will find off is the humour – you won’t know how to take it if you want something a little bleaker. To be honest, the first 20 minutes or so is jarring, and the attempts at black humour bookending a rather tender or serious moment do not really work. There are perfect moments to time black comedy, but Moland doesn’t really hit them early on. The humour takes time to settle if you stick with, and roots down better when things feel more natural, and that’s the best thing about humour. Feeling natural, rather than forced as a scene in a morgue awkwardly does.

But stick with it, because when the snow hits the fan, then Neeson’s average Mr.Plow begins to hunt down those drug dealers and kingpins who turned his world upside down. Things pick up a little more when the first punch is thrown and its bone-crunching, blood spurting stuff all under-pinned with a level of reality that often escapes your usual vigilante films. It’s more a film Clint Eastwood would feel at home in; acting to his age but showing he is not a man to mess with even in his high-vis jacket.

Neeson is supported by “blink and you’ll miss her” Laura Dern, a distracting Tom Bateman who looks like a younger Joaquin Phoenix in his turn as a deranged drug pusher, and Emmy Rossum looking as sweet as ever as a good-hearted detective. It’s the usual run of the mill characters, and as said before it doesn’t try to break the mould or offer something new. The vigilante, the cop trying to solve the crime, the drug lord, the drug lord’s numerous lackies, the suffering wife, another suffering wife of said drug lord, an innocent child, a corrupt cop, an insider…. You know the drill.

The difference is, each character is given a little more than the standard 15 seconds of screen time to actually try and make their character mean something in the grand scheme of things. Each is given a relationship to link to another, and they are all given a moment for us to click with them and see their place in this snowy, dangerous world. It just makes things all the more awkward (and better attuned for a dark giggle) when any of them meet their maker, as they even get a small title card bearing their name. Each death matters, and has a point. It’s not random carnage. It all feels strangely natural… Even when Neeson shows his tender side toward a young child needing a father-figure, a beautiful little moment rarely seen in his other brainless offerings.

To this extent, Neeson is on solid ground given material he’s not adverse to but working with a decent cast and crew to offer something different to what you’d expect. The location of Colorado (filmed around British Columbia) is rather stunning in all shots. Whether it’s a bleak funeral in the middle of a blizzard, a thundering snowplough driving along a road or simply shots of the town below and those in it, everything looks crisp and rather breath-taking. Nothing is rushed here. Nothing is wasted, and nothing is cut to ribbons in the editing suite.

The action is there, but it’s not there for glitz. It’s there to move a story forward and not to amuse action junkies. The hits hurt, the kills are swift and there’s no lingering around for a hero shot. Neeson wheezes and rubs wounded knuckles a few times than normal when his age pushes him to the limit, a nice touch to add a little humanity to him. A solid cast and crew bring this to live, and it’s nothing memorable, but rather enjoyable when you are given chance to keep up with Liam Neeson as a vigilante in a film that actually suits him as the old guy more than trying to act twenty years younger.

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