“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
This apt quote from writer/poet Oscar Wilde is the only early indicator that Cold Pursuit will be anything other than another variation on the vigilante badass that Liam Neeson has been playing now for over a decade. My suggestion? Wrap that expectation in chicken wire and toss it into a gorge because while the first fifteen minutes resemble those other films, Cold Pursuit soon reveals itself as a quirky and subversive jet-black comedy punctuated by bloody gags with payoffs varying in degrees of effectiveness, and an awkward narrative flow.
Cold Pursuit is a remake of the absurdist 2014 Norwegian revenge flick In Order of Disappearance (both directed by Hans Petter Moland). Liam Neeson steps in for Swedish star Stellan Skarsgård as Nels Coxman (named Dickman in the original), a stoic snowplow driver for the ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado.
The film begins with Nel accepting the Kehoe Citizen of the Year Award. He and his loving wife Grace (Laura Dern) the get a single scene together with their son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) before the young Coxman turns up dead from a heroin overdose. Nels doesn’t buy it, calmly proclaiming:
“Our son isn’t a druggie.”
The next handful of minutes are jarringly crammed with the only semblance of character development in the film. Nels and Grace exchange a couple lines of grief over the course of a few brief scenes before Grace ultimately leaves her husband (in the single greatest waste of Laura Dern I’ve ever seen). Almost immediately, Nels has a rifle in his mouth, ready to end his own life.
As fate would have it, this is also the moment Nels discovers that his earlier suspicions were right. His son hadn’t OD-ed because of some secret addiction. He was murdered.
In Taken, this is the moment former CIA Agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) decides to bust out his particular set of skills to track down his daughter and dispatch of her abductors in a single-file sort of fashion. In Cold Pursuit, this is the moment a quiet snowplow trucker from Colorado commits to life as an amateur outlaw who sloppily murders members of an underground drug ring composed exclusively of hardened criminals.
Putting aside my very humorous observations, that is part of what makes Cold Pursuit stand out from Neeson’s ruffian filmography. Coxman isn’t an expertly trained assassin nor a desperado with a rough past. He is just a regular guy and director Hans Petter Moland leans into the fact for some good laughs.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Tom Bateman, who plays a cartoonishly stern and neurotic drug lord named Trevor Calcote aka “The Viking.” (Yes, this is one of those movies where every bad guy has a silly nickname like “Bullet,” “Limbo,” “Santa” or– and this one is my personal favorite– “Speedo.”)
Viking lives a lavish lifestyle with sports cars that would make Bruce Wayne jealous, a sleekly modern home with mostly glass for walls and armed bodyguards stationed probably every ten feet. He’s also strangely obsessed with his young son’s (Nicholas Holmes) strict diet. His ex-wife, Aya (Julia Jones), occasionally shows up to berate Viking for being a stupid idiot. As entertaining as their banter is throughout the film, their relationship never serves a larger narrative function.
While Coxman is busy pummeling his way through Kehoe’s cocaine-powdered underworld, he unknowingly kicks off a gruesome turf war between Viking and the local Native American reservation, lead by Chief White Bull (Tom Jackson).
Meanwhile, a young, spunky Kehoe Police Officer named Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) has herself an old-fashioned hunch (the kind only cops in movies ever get) that all these sudden slayings are related and begins suspecting that the once-quiet town of Kehoe has become the battlefield in a larger-scale showdown, much to the childlike amusement of her older, more laid back partner “Gip” Gipsky (John Doman). Like Viking and Aya, Dash and Gip are fun together but their involvement is of very little consequence to the story when it’s all said and done.
If in all this you’ve forgotten about Liam Neeson’s Nels Coxman, don’t feel bad. Watching the movie, I did too. There is so much going on in Cold Pursuit that the main protagonist disappears for large chunks of screen time and you can feel the film start to drag come a certain point. Even though I lost track of what was going on at certain points, I never lost interest.
Did you get a chance to check out Cold Pursuit or are you not interested? If so, what did you think? Let me know all of the thoughts in the comments below!