Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Movie Review: Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit *** / *****
Directed by: Hans Petter Moland.
Written by: Frank Baldwin based on the movie written by Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Nels Coxman), Emmy Rossum (Detective Kim Dash), Laura Dern (Grace Coxman), David O'Hara (Sly), Tom Bateman (Viking), Domenick Lombardozzi (Mustang), Julia Jones (Aya), William Forsythe (Brock 'Wingman' Coxman), Raoul Max Trujillo (Thorpe), Aleks Paunovic (Detective Osgard), John Doman (Gip), Nathaniel Arcand (Smoke), Benjamin Hollingsworth (Dexter), Arnold Pinnock (Eskimo), Micheál Richardson (Kyle Coxman), Tom Jackson (White Bull), Elizabeth Thai (Ankana), Bradley Stryker (Limbo).
The best thing you can say about Cold Pursuit – the latest in a string of Liam Neeson revenge flicks that always seem to be released in January and February – is that it is the least predictable film in this vein Neeson has made. Cold Pursuit has some genuine surprises in it, and foes to some very strange places I didn’t expect it to – which is more than you could say for The Commuter or Taken or Taken 2 or Taken 3 or Non-Stop or Unknown, etc. It’s no The Grey – a legitimately great genre film with Neeson fighting wolves – or even A Walk Among the Tombstones – an underrated little thriller – but it is a genuinely weird little film that at times seems to be more interested in being a sendup of Neeson revenge movies than be one itself, and at times seems to even forget Neeson is in the movie for a while as it gets sidetracked with other characters that for a while the film finds more interesting. I’m not sure if any of this makes Cold Pursuit a good movie – but it does mean it’s not just another run of the mill late winter programmer like he normally churns out.
In the film Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a snow plow driver from Kehoe, Colorado – so beloved in his town that he has just been named Citizen of the Year. His boring world is turned upside though when his son, Kyle, is murdered by a gang of drug dealers, who make it look like a drug overdose, even though Kyle didn’t use drugs. When Nels and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) tell the cops that their son didn’t use drugs, they respond wryly “that’s what all the parents say” – and close the case. It doesn’t take Nels long to figure out what happened, and who killed his son, or for him to extract vengeance of them. But when that’s done, Nels wants to keep going – keep working his way up the food chain. This is what brings him into conflict with yuppie psycho Viking (Tom Bateman) – head of the whole gang – and will eventually lead to an all-out gang war, when Viking believes it a rival Native gang, headed by White Bull (Tom Jackson) responsible for all the killing – and take out White Bull’s son. For White Bull, the only payment acceptable is a “son for a son” – so he sets his sights on Viking’s 10-year-old.
There is a lot of violence in Cold Pursuit, but for the most part director Hans Petter Moland (who made a version of this film with Stellan Skarsgaard a film years ago in Sweden – I haven’t seen that one) doesn’t dwell too heavily on the blood and guts, at least not after the opening act, which is the bloodiest, even if its body count pales in comparison to what comes later. He does provide helpful name cards for all the people we see who have just been killed – usually one at a time, but at one point so many people have died their names fill the entire screen. There are cops around – most notably Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) – who seems to be the only cop who notices, or cares, about all the drug dealers who have gone missing, but is too late to really figure things out in time. There is probably a commentary on the pathetic nature of the men in this movie to be made out of the fact that Kim is the only cop who is worth a damn in the film, and Grace is smart enough to get the hell out of the movie early on – leaving a blank card as her exit note.
The film’s heart is really as an absurd black comedy played mostly straight by the entire cast, who gamely play along, even if they know they look kind of silly. Tom Bateman’s performance as Viking probably veers too close to be over-the-top – he’s certainly making a choice in his style of line delivery.
The film has become a footnote now to Neeson’s bizarre interview where he talked about the futility of revenge – which is a sentiment this movie shares – but also confessed, apparently with no realization of it, of racist thoughts in his past that was honestly just strange, and seemed to torpedo the movie upon release. It’s sad because Neeson exposed something about himself, and more than he realized, when he said that. It’s also sad (a lot less sad, but sad) that the comments overshadowed this bizarre little film – and honestly makes it a little bit harder to enjoy it. It was never going to be a great film (although, something tells me in the hands of the Coen brothers, it would be a masterpiece) – but it’s, well, something.

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