Synopsis – A snowplow driver seeks revenge against the drug dealers he thinks killed his son.
My Take – Unlike most I am ready to openly admit that I really like Liam Neeson as an actor and have enjoyed most of his post Taken success action flicks (expect Taken 3 of course), but now thanks to his recent racially charged remarks (which I believe have blown out of proportion), his latest may actually end up being last film the 66 year old action star makes for at least a while.
Which is quite dismaying since this film despite its generic title is anything but your average Liam Neeson potboiler. While the trailers of this remake of a 2014 Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance, may have you believe that this is going to be just another Taken inspired film where Neeson seeks revenge for violence committed against a family member, but this time in a minus-23 degrees climate, it’s instead more of dark comedy that highlights the law of unintended consequences happening in the film.
Rather than a being a full on high-octane action thriller with rooftop chases and dramatic fight scenes, here, director Hans Petter Moland (who remakes his own Norwegian film) seeks Fargo as an inspiration and makes everything surprisingly low-key, and strangely funny. While the film may not be as relentless or as kinetically paced as some of Neeson’s other recent action films, it is still a perversely entertaining and engaging feature worth checking out.
The story follows Nelson “Nels” Coxman (Liam Neeson), a devoted snowplougher, who keeps the roads in and around the small ski town of Kehoe clear from nature’s ferocity. Recently awarded Citizen of the Year trophy, Nel lives an average life in a secluded lodge nestled between the mountains with his wife Grace (Laura Dern). That is until, they both find out that their son, Kyle (Micheal Richardson) has been found dead, that too supposedly from a heroin overdose.
Convinced that his son wasn’t a junkie, Nels finds out that his son’s death was a result of drug deal gone wrong. Spurred by grief, Nels seeks out to find and kill everyone responsible. As he continues up a chain of command, the sudden disappearances of this dealers gain the attention of a local police officer, Kimberly “Kim” Dash (Emmy Rossum), but despite her persistence, her partner, John Gipsky (John Doman) and other members of the law enforcement refuse to pursue the investigation, mainly due to the involvement of Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman), a volatile and unpredictable local drug lord.
But what Nels doesn’t realize is that his actions has also inadvertently triggered a turf war between Calcote’s gang and a rival cartel of Native American drug dealers led by White Bull (Tom Jackson), an urbane antiquities dealer, hence putting everyone in danger.
While the film may come off as a typical Liam Neeson as an one-man-army self, it works more like an ensemble piece, as the film is busy with several subplots – one follows Calcote’s volatile relationship with his grasping ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones), and the town’s police officers as they try to make sense of the bodies piling up in their normally quiet and peaceful town. But thankfully it is more focused on being a fun escapism with gratuitous violence, and cliché portrayals of Native Americans, crime bosses and average men being local heroes, etc. ]Not to mention an exponentially growing kill tally. What is not to love, right?
The film knows that killing a man with a snow plow is a ridiculous macho fantasy, and it’s going to give it to you anyway—but not without a wink and a smile. Considering Neeson‘s recent outings you don’t expect this one to be an amusing film; by the end of the film, it is virtually impossible not to laugh with each impending death. Here, director Moland inserts an inter title after each death, showing a religious symbol such as a Star of David or a Christian cross, along with the name of the deceased and their nickname in their organization. At first this is sobering, such as with the death of Nels and Grace’s son, but after a while it becomes almost comical as this chain of confusion that Nels began leads to more and more deaths.
In a sense, it almost becomes a commentary on the cinemagoer as voyeur to all of these murders while simultaneously recognizing that each of these deaths was of an actual person, not a cog in the machine. I’ve read comparisons with Fargo which I would certainly agree with as the film is a quirky film with moments of graphic violence usually followed by pitch black humor which is very much my brand.
There were several points during this film where I was nearly crying with laughter and even the moments of violence were tinged with dark humor so it never gets overly disturbing. Sure, we get plenty of head banging “shooting at point blank range” bloody snow scenes to satisfy our lust for the ‘I’m going to kill you now’ version of Liam Neeson. However, here Snow Plow Neeson is a kinder, gentler killer who, at times, actually got very tired when beating the life out of someone.
Where the film succeeds the most is when it nails the black comedy tone, sometimes veering into farce, all the while managing to balance the macabre and the silly — like when Nels is dumping a body into the gorge as the Christmas song 2000 Miles rings in the background. However in doing so it loses the balance on the drama. Normally with black comedies, there is always be solid comic relief to counteract any scenes of brutal violence or emotional severity.
Unfortunately, as the film mainly bends towards its outrageous aspects, the appearance of serious moments end up feeling harsh and unpleasant. This may come down to the way the story has been adapted from its Norwegian source material to suit American audiences, as some of the film’s Scandinavian quirkiness would have likely been lost in translation. Another flaw I would point out to be the under-utilization of Emmy Rossum‘s cop and Laura Dern’s mourning mother, who for some reason had nothing do in the final act of the film.
I think by now we all know that Liam Neeson is a master performer, who over the past decade has become really comfortable in his role as an action hero and it’s just a pleasure to watch him in dangerous situations. Neeson, as always, is up to the challenge of the brief-yet-bloody action scenes, and uses his natural glower and gravelly voice to sympathetic effect in quieter parts of the film.
Although Neeson is the film’s lead actor, it is Tom Bateman as the film’s main antagonist who steals the show in every scene he is in. His sleazy, unhinged performance was so unpredictable that it was always intriguing to see what he would do next. In supporting roles, William Forsythe, Tom Jackson, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, Raoul Trujillo, John Doman, and Michael Eklund are also good. On the whole, ‘Cold Pursuit’ is a hilarious action thriller that also brings a refreshing take on Liam Neeson‘s often machismo roles.
Directed – Hans Petter Moland
Rated – R
Run Time – 118 minutes