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Cold Pursuit (2019)

DIRECTOR: Hans Petter Moland

CAST: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, William Forsythe, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, Tom Jackson

REVIEW:

Those going into Cold Pursuit (a remake of director Hans Petter Moland’s own 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance starring Stellan Skarsgard) for a straightforward Liam Neeson action flick might not get what they’re expecting. On the one hand, given the lack of variety on Neeson’s filmography these days, it’s a little nice to see Cold Pursuit at least try to do something a little different. Alas, the results are an uncertain and self-indulgent, somewhat schizophrenic product that can’t quite make up its mind whether it wants to be a gritty “Liam Neeson kills everyone” crime thriller or a quirky black comedy, leaving it not fully succeeding in any direction.

Like many a Liam Neeson killing machine, Nels Coxman (Neeson) starts out as a seemingly average Joe working as a snowplow driver keeping the roads passable for the citizens of the uneventful little town of Kehoe near Denver. Nels is a family man, with a loving wife (Laura Dern) and grown son Kyle (Michael Richardson), but the peace is shattered one day when Kyle dies of a drug overdose. While his wife despairs that they didn’t truly know their own son, Nels is not convinced that all is as it seems, and with the help of his ex-gangster brother “Wingman” (William Forsythe), he uncovers a trail leading to bigtime Denver drug lord “Viking” (Tom Bateman). In true Liam Neeson fashion, Nels promptly begins waging a one-man war, working his way with unflappable determination up the food chain dispatching a series of lower-level henchmen en route to Viking himself.

Were Cold Pursuit a trimmer, more straightforward crime thriller centering on Nels’ one-man takedown of Viking and his gang, it might have been an effective Taken variation (haven’t movie villains learned yet not to mess with Liam Neeson’s children?). Alas, it’s overstuffed and self-indulgent, wandering down extraneous subplots and characters with more screentime than relevance. There’s two significant subplots, one involving a rival Native American gang led by White Bull (Tom Jackson), who becomes embroiled in a turf war with Viking, and a pair of cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) who do nothing but swap banter and bits of exposition, but the former serves little purpose except as a deus ex machina in the climax, and the latter could have been left out of the movie for all the difference they ultimately make to the plot. I kept expecting some combo of these characters to eventually join forces for the climax, but it never really happens. Additionally, a pervasive undercurrent of dark humor runs through the production, often of the gallows variety. Nels stops choking a man too soon only to have him come back to life and have to be strangled again. He disposes of a series of bodies by wrapping them in chicken wire (so the fish can get to them, eating the flesh and keeping the body from swelling and floating to the surface) and dumping them in the river; when asked where he got the idea, Neeson deadpans “I read it in a crime novel”. There’s also a severed head. Overall however, it’s neither as effective nor as well-integrated as the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. We get pointless side detours like Viking fighting with his ex-wife (Julia Jones) or fussing over his son’s (Nicholas Holmes) diet, or the pointless cops swapping banter. Various scenes beg to be cut down or trimmed altogether. Perhaps Moland’s most overt tongue-in-cheek touch is interrupting the proceedings with an “in memoriam” style intertitle whenever a character bites the dust. Considering the body count is high, this becomes something of a running gag (this is used to most amusing effect after the climactic shootout, when the screen is filled with rows of names of the deceased).

The cinematography of Philip Ogaard (who like director Hans Petter Moland is returning from In Order of Disappearance) emphasizes the starkness of the white snowy landscape (set near Denver but actually filmed in Western Canada), through which Nels carves a path with his snowplow (which he uses at one point to send a bad guy’s car flying). The movie doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to Nels matter-of-factly dispatching bad guys; Neeson hasn’t been this brutal since Taken, and he plays Nels the same way he plays every other action anti-hero on his filmography, with a grim straight face and unflappable determination. There might be dark comedy around him, but Neeson himself never breaks his air of seriousness. Tom Bateman’s preppy, whiny-voiced, overacted histrionics-throwing Viking is not the most imposing of villains, and is generally more fatuous than threatening. Laura Dern and William Forsythe have walk-on roles; Dern drops straight out of the movie after a handful of early scenes. Emmy Rossum gets more screentime but her character is pointless. No one else makes much of an impression.

Cold Pursuit exists somewhat in the same category of something like Bad Times at the El Royale, mixing spurts of bloody violence with gallows humor and offbeat tangents, but at least for my money, Cold Pursuit is less balanced. Those with a taste for Liam Neeson’s violent action flicks may give it a look, but may find its quirky tone off-putting. For anyone else, it doesn’t represent a compelling reason to venture to the theater.

* * 1/2


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