The ‘Liam Neeson’ revenge thriller has become a sub-genre in and so itself, thanks in large part to the Taken franchise. Since the release of the first Taken back in 2008. Neeson has gone on late-career surge as an action hero with the likes of Unknown, Run the Night and The Commuter. To be sold a revenge thriller starring Neeson can kinda feel like run of the mill stuff at this juncture. And while Cold Pursuit would certainly seem on the surface to be another entry in Neeson’s geri-action canon, there is in fact something a bit stranger going on under the hood.
Neeson plays snow plow driver Nels Coxman, a man very much contented in his quiet life with his wife and son in the sleepy town of Kehoe, Colorado. After being awarded ‘Citizen of the Year’, Nels finds his life thrown into disarray after his son dies following a suspected heroin overdose. However, Nels soon finds out that his son was actually murdered by a drug cartel, leading down a path of revenge that wildly veers out of his control.
Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland, Cold Pursuit is a remake of Moland’s own film, In Order of Disappearance (which features Stellan Skarsgård in the Neeson role). What is immediately clear about this film is its very off-kilter sense of humour, one which has a pervading European wit to it that one can safely assume is a hangover from the original. That immediately makes this a very different offering to Neeson’s other thriller pics, with Cold Pursuit more interested in idiosyncratic details than it is fast-cut action.
The world of Cold Pursuit is one where everyone seems to have watched and read too many crime novels and too many gangster movies, meaning that they have an unrealistic expectation as to how they can operate. Nels even expresses as much that he got the idea for how to hide the bodies that are piling up around him from a crime novel, when really his acts of revenge are largely successful through dumb luck.
The same can be said for the villains of the piece, with all the mobsters carrying with them ridiculous nicknames, ranging from ‘Speedo’, to ‘Limbo’, Mustang and the short-tempered boss man ‘Viking’. This all amounts to a lot of clashing male egos, keen to prove they’re smarter than the other, with Viking’s action in particularly taking on arrogance that only leads to more confusion, conflict and bloodshed when he makes the assumption that Nel’s kills are the handy work of a rival drug lord.
Cold Pursuit is very much about men performing an idea of what it is to be a man, and often failing to reach those expectations. It makes for a wry and bizarre experience, one that has moments of Tarantino-lite dialogue to the more macabre. It is often difficult to find your footing in the snow, with the bizarre shifts in tone often making it hard for the film to generate that much in the way of momentum. The gallows humour does often land quite well, particularly as the set-pieces become increasingly bloodier, but it is an odd concoction all the same,operating with a sense of humour that feels unique if occasionally distant.
The cast are largely very in sync with Moland’s approach, largely on the side of his sense of humour throughout. Neeson is particularly very good at providing some sensitivity to what is essentially the story of a man whose life is falling apart at a very rapid rate. Tom Bateman is also a hoot as Viking, a mob boss with an obsessive compulsion to control all aspects of his life, despite his often volatile and deranged personality getting in the way. While Emmy Rossum is on good form as a strong-willed police officer on the case, what is disappointing is the sight of seeing the great Laura Dern wasted in a very small role as Nels distraught wife, Grace.
Those looking for a Neeson thriller in the mould of Taken will be left adrift in the snowstorm that is Cold Pursuit, a film that is quite content with its peculiar crime paperback vibe that makes for an utterly bizarre, but occasionally quite effective off-kilter black comedy.
Dir: Hans Petter Moland
Scr: Frank Baldwin, based on the screenplay for In Order of Disappearance by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Cast: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi and Laura Dern.
Prd: Finn Gjerdrum, Stein B. Kvae, Michael Shamberg and Ameet Shukla
DOP: Philip Øgaard
Music: George Fenton
Country: United States/United Kingdom
Runtime: 118 minutes
Cold Pursuit is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from June 24th.