Cold Pursuit

Director: Hans Petter Moland
Screenplay: Frank Baldwin (based on the movie Kraftidioten written by Kim Fupz Aakeson)
Stars: Liam Neeson (Nels Coxman), Tom Bateman (Trevor “Viking” Calcote), Laura Dern (Grace Coxman), William Forsythe (Wingman), Micheál Richardson (Kyle Coxman), Michael Eklund (Speedo), Bradley Stryker (Limbo), Wesley MacInnes (Dante), Domenick Lombardozzi (Mustang), Nicholas Holmes (Ryan), Aleks Paunovic (Detective Osgard), Emmy Rossum (Kim Dash), Gus Halper (Bone), Tom Jackson (White Bull), Arnold Pinnock (The Eskimo)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2019
Country: U.K. / Norway / Canada / U.S.
Cold Pursuit
Cold Pursuit

In the decade following the release of Taken (2008), which established Liam Neeson as a surprisingly effective action hero of the immensely brooding variety, we have had a long series of grim thrillers centered around the actor who once played Oscar Schindler now playing various gruff, steely-eyed protagonists fighting for survival or seeking vengeance: Unknown (2011), The Grey (2011), Taken 2 (2012), Non-Stop (2014), Taken 3 (2014), A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014), Run All Night (2015), and The Commuter (2018). His latest, Cold Pursuit, would seem to fit right in line with those others—except that it doesn’t. Approximately half of the film is a familiar Liam Neeson-centered vengeance thriller, while the other half is … well … something else. Or, more accurately, many somethings.

A remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance) starring Stellan Skarsgård (and unseen by me), Cold Pursuit is set in the snowy mountains in and around a ski town north of Denver, Colorado. Neeson’s protagonist, Nels Coxman, is a snowplow driver who has recently been honored with the town’s “Citizen of the Year” award. Not long after, his adult son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) is murdered by a drug cartel (he is made to look like he overdosed on heroin), which sends Nels’s wife Grace (Laura Dern in a thankless role) over the edge and out of his life. Distraught and suicidal, Nels is about to end it all when he learns that his son was murdered, at which point he morphs into a single-minded vigilante who begins taking out members of the Denver-based cartel one-by-one as he works his way up to the head, a stylish cad known as Viking (Tom Bateman). Nels’s activities end up sparking a long-simmer turf war between Viking’s cartel and White Bull (Tom Jackson), a Native American drug dealer who controls all the trade around the ski town where Nels lives.

And there’s more—a lot more. The screenplay by first-time scribe Frank Baldwin from the original Norweigan script by Kim Fupz Aakeson, is a widely scattered affair, drawing in a rogue’s gallery of characters from across the spectrum, all of whom eventually have something to do with the sprawling plot. We have Emmy Rossum as a local police officers investigating the cartel, William Forsythe as Nels’s estranged brother who was once involved in organized crime, and Arnold Punnock as an assassin named The Eskimo. Part of the plot involves Nels kidnapping Viking’s elementary-aged son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), who seems like a decent enough kid despite his cartoonishly monstrous father. There are also multiple digressive subplots involving various heavies and bodyguards who work for Viking, including one who has a particularly skeevy method of seducing hotel maids and two who are in a romantic relationship.

The fundamental problem with Cold Pursuit is that it clearly wants to be a lot of things at once: a traditional revenge thriller, a sentimental drama, a Tarantino-esque ensemble black comedy—who knows? There is a running gag in which every time a character is killed, his or her name suddenly appears on a black screen like a massive gravestone, which jars the film to a number of temporary halts. Perhaps this is some kind of self-aware bid to make us consider the presence of death, even though the film treats its bloody violence as alternately horrific and hilarious. It’s not that those tones can’t be mixed and mingled, but it takes a special touch to pull it off, something that Cold Pursuit is demonstrably lacking.

It does some things much better than others, and the speed with which it switches gears is liable to give you whiplash (the editing also feels oddly truncated at times, with scenes cut off prematurely in what feels like a bid to reduce the running time to under two hours). Some of it works, while other parts feel desperate and strained. The humor is dark and sometimes amusingly twisted, but at other times painfully obvious, such as multiple characters finding the last name “Coxman” funny. The film as a whole is not particularly memorable even though it’s certainly bizarre, and there is a whole lot about it that just doesn’t really make sense (for example, how does Neeson’s character, who seems to be just an ordinary guy, suddenly become such a vicious and effective killer of professional killers?). For much of the time Neeson seems to be acting in his own movie, all grim and determined, while the rest of the cast, particularly Tom Bateman, are working on a much goofier and more self-aware level. Director Hans Petter Moland, who also directed the original Norwegian film, clearly wants to juggle tones ala the Coen Brothers or Robert Altman, but it feels more like he’s throwing everything he has at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. Most of it doesn’t.

Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2)

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