Cold Pursuit (a remake of a Norwegian film by the same director) follows Nels Coxman, a low profile snowplough driver in Kehoe, a fictional and quiet ski town in the middle of nowhere. He lives a simple and routine life with his beautiful wife, Grace (Laura Dern) and their son, Kyle, who despite living under their roof, seems distant. Perhaps Kyle takes after his dad, who’s an emotionally reserved man of few words.
Nels wakes up, ploughs the snow around town, comes home, has a conversation with his wife, heads to bed, repeat. The only exciting disruption in the routine comes when his fellow citizens name him “Man of the Year” and he’s asked to go up on stage to receive the award. He nervously delivers a speech on how there are far more important men out there that are deserving of the award, as his beaming wife looks on proudly.
One day, a bunch of drug dealers kill his son and Nels goes from a quiet man who minds his own business to a bloodthirsty vigilante hungry for revenge. If your immediate reaction is to roll your eyes and go oh no! Not again. I don’t blame you.
Neeson has spent the better part of the past decade starring in Taken films (each sequel working hard to destroy the legacy of the original) and action flicks that are not-Taken only in title. Who are we kidding? Non-Stop is Taken on a plane, The Commuter is Taken on a train. So it’s not unfair to assume that Cold Pursuit would be Taken in the snow.
Could there be a ski-chase sequence in which Liam Neeson is pursued down a mountain by 10 gangsters in ski masks and semi-automatic weapons, as the old man swerves around trees and takes them out one by one with nothing but his bare fists and his particular set of skills? Surprisingly, Cold Pursuit is not quite the same.
The bones are similar. Nels Coxman discovers that his son was murdered by some dealers working for a big-time drug ring, and decides to take them out one by one, working his way up towards the big boss. But its flesh and blood are much different from your standard Liam Neeson turn-off-your-brain bonanza. It starts off quiet, serious and sombre, but slowly blooms into a wacky and refreshing satire of the revenge genre. In a hilarious series of scenes, we see Neeson carrying a body wrapped in chicken wire and throwing it down a river.
Every time a character kicks the bucket, their names pop up on the black screen in white. Funnily enough, this was foreshadowed in the film’s opening frame, in which the words of Olivia Wilde fade onto the screen: “some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
Midway through, the gang leader known simply as The Viking assumes that a rival, Native American gang has been taking out his men. A bonkers gang war breaks out and at one point we see two dozen names of characters pop up on screen, as the audience in the theatre collectively chuckled.
I found myself smiling quite a bit throughout all thanks to Frank Baldwin’s consistently witty writing, injected with humorous wordplays. The scene where the Native American ganglords try to make a hotel reservation will still be one of the funniest sequences of 2019, come the end of the year. I am sure of it!
Cold Pursuit reminded me a little of the works of Quentin Tarantino. The difference is, in a Tarantino film, characters have colourful personalities to match their colourful names. Here, we don’t care about anyone beyond Liam Neeson’s Nels, so their deaths mean nothing. This film needed more world-building, more OTT action blocks, more stylistic violence and more fun character moments (there are some — like the scene where Nels and his brother have a chat as the brother’s Asian girlfriend angrily yaps away — but it’s not enough).
As it stands, these aspects are better in concept than in execution. We could’ve used a scene or two where characters bicker about cheeseburgers and the French metric system. What is the purpose of the two cop characters, I wonder? They’re given some hilarious lines to deliver, but do nothing interesting to flesh out the world. There’s also the editing by Nocolaj Monberg, who repeatedly cuts away too soon in scenes that could’ve used a little more lingering. Is Monberg’s wife yelling at him to quickly pick his kids up from school?
But for all its flaws, Cold Pursuit is still a fun ride. Far better than your typical Liam Neeson cash grab action vehicle. Its mean humour may not be for everybody, but it sure as hell is for me.
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Cold Pursuit (2019)
The bones are similar. But its flesh and blood are much different from your standard Liam Neeson turn-off-your-brain bonanza. It starts off quiet, serious and sombre, but slowly blooms into a wacky and refreshing satire of the revenge genre.