Well, the timing of this is a bit awkward.
Liam Neeson recently said some reprehensible things in an interview. It was offensive enough to have the red carpet premiere of “Cold Pursuit” cancelled, suggesting that his career is now dead like the dodo. With all this said, “Cold Pursuit” is actually the best movie he’s been the main attraction of since 2012’s, “The Grey”.
This is actually a remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller “Kraftidioten” and is directed by the same filmmaker, Hans Petter Moland, and adapted by the same screenwriter, Kim Fupz Aakeson. This continuity promotes the idea that this team knows what they’re doing, and their creation has much more in common with 2012’s “Headhunters” and the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” than it does with Neeson’s popular film, “Taken”.
Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a man who lives a quiet life as a snowplow driver in the Colorado Rockies. All day, everyday, he clears a path for drivers wanting to make their way to a Winter Park-esque resort town. Nels has won a citizen-of-the-year award, and together with his wife and son he is content. This, however, does not last.
The most recognizable element of a quintessential Liam Neeson revenge thriller in this film is that the son is murdered by drug dealers, and his life is thrown into a bloodthirsty disarray as he begins hunting down the men responsible. But after that, this is one weird, bizarre, darkly hilarious beast of a film.
Nels isn’t a former CIA hitman/black-ops-agent like he is in the “Taken” trilogy: this guy is an average joe with zero “special skills” besides what he observes in crime novels. This film is violent to twisted degrees, as Nels has no fear of prison-time and little interest in covering his tracks; he beats men to death, shoots them point-blank in broad daylight, and--gasp!--leaves his fingerprints everywhere. His greatest asset? He’s an upstanding citizen; he’s the last guy the police, played by John Doman (“The Wire”) and Emmy Rossum (“Shameless”), would suspect.
This is where the film will throw you for a loop: Neeson actually isn’t the star of the show. Around the 30-minute mark, “Cold Pursuit” becomes an ensemble piece with a fairly large cast of interesting characters. We begin following, almost aimlessly, the misadventures of the mafia responsible for killing Nels’ boy (the boss, played by Tom Bateman, chews every piece of scenery not nailed down), as well as the bitter, hypocritical Native American mafia, whose boss, White Bull (Tom Jackson, delivering far and away the best performance) laments everything that’s been stolen from his people, yet makes his living getting reservation tribes addicted to heroin.
The change in pace of the film is totally jarring, as the audience up to now has expected to be hanging out with Neeson for the whole show, but this ballsy 180 turns the story into something recklessly fun and memorable. Director Moland understands that this subversion of a cinematic formula most studios and producers would urge him to abide by (i.e., Neeson is wronged, Neeson takes revenge) will polarize most audiences, but this movie wasn’t made for them: “Cold Pursuit” was made for an audience hungry for something brutally different.
The cinematography by Philip Øgaard is gorgeous, capturing a tourist-trap town that, under the surface, is a sleazy high-altitude-hell. The dialogue is wild, loose, sometimes awkward, but rarely cliche; there’s exchanges that are memorably nasty and would make the Noirs of yesteryear proud that their influence has not been forgotten.
This film has an artistic merit that separates it from the pack of largely forgettable movies released around the beginning of every year (January & February are notorious for being studio’s dumping grounds for movies they have dwindling confidence for).
Hear this plea: if you are hesitant about supporting anything Neeson is affiliated with after his disastrous recent comments, I will not blame you for picking a different movie to watch this weekend, but I think that you’ll be making a big mistake: this film isn’t just good, it’s bitingly, shockingly, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming good. If you can’t support Neeson, support Moland and the rest of the cast and crew who clearly worked so hard on it. Even if you end up disliking it, you’ll walk away with something to talk about, and that’s a guarantee.