It may be cliché to say that Liam Neeson stars in another movie where he seeks revenge for violence committed against a family member. But such is the case with “Cold pursuit,” an entertaining and engaging feature with dark comedy that highlights the law of unintended consequences.
Hans Petter Moland directs this remake of his 2014 Norwegian film, “In order of disappearance” (“Kraftidioten”). Nels Coxman (Neeson) operates the snowplow in the resort town of Kehoe near Denver. He and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) live a simple life in their lodge outside of town, where he is honored as Citizen of the Year at a banquet.
Their son, Kyle (Micheal Richardson, Neeson’s real-life son), works at the local airport. He is abducted one night and ends up dead from a heroin overdose in Denver. When Nels and Grace go to identify his body, Nels denies that his son was a drug addict. The policeman and morgue attendant are indifferent to this claim, as they hear it quite often from clueless parents. Nels recognizes that the police are not going to investigate his son’s death as a homicide.
Distraught, Nels is about to kill himself in the garage when he hears Dante (Wesley MacInnes), Kyle’s co-worker, moving around. Dante confesses that it was his meddling with a cocaine shipment that got the innocent Kyle murdered. He gives Nels the name Speedo.
Nels finds Speedo and begins a chain of killings of those in the hierarchy responsible for murdering his son. With each new person, he receives a new name in the criminal organization to pursue. This continues until he eliminates Santa, where he reaches a dead end.
Meanwhile, Viking (Tom Bateman), leader of the crime syndicate whose members are vanishing (Nels wraps them in chicken wire and throws them over a waterfall near Kehoe), is becoming concerned. He becomes convinced that a rival organization, with whom he split the territory’s cocaine distribution, is staging a takeover bid. He decides to murder one of their couriers at Kehoe’s airport and make an example of him.
By sheer chance, the person who is the courier that day is the son of White Bull (Tom Jackson), the leader of the other cocaine syndicate. His death unleashes a turf war in which White Bull becomes determined to take a life for a life by killing Viking’s young son, Ryan (Nicholas Holmes).
With no new leads, Nels visits his brother “Wingman” (William Forsythe), who used to work for Viking’s father. Wingman arranges for Nels to hire a hitman, the Eskimo, to kill Viking. When this gambit fails, Nels decides that he has no choice but to kidnap Ryan himself.
As in his original film, Moland inserts an intertitle after each death, showing a religious symbol such as a Star of David or a Christian cross, along with the name of the deceased and their nickname in their organization. At first this is sobering, such as with the death of Nels and Grace’s son, but after a while it becomes almost comical as this chain of confusion that Nels began leads to more and more deaths. In a sense, it almost becomes a commentary on the cinemagoer as voyeur to all of these murders while simultaneously recognizing that each of these deaths was of an actual person, not a cog in the machine.
The movie goes through many tonal shifts. There are the dark scenes of Nels and Grace’s overpowering grief and the failure of their relationship as a result of their son’s murder. The scenes where Nels murders the 3 henchmen are extremely violent. Bateman’s scenes as Viking are comical as his various quirks and mannerisms are exposed.
The original film had a gang of local Norwegians sharing the cocaine territory with Serbians. The substitution of White Bull and his group of Native Americans for the Serbians in this production allows for some interesting social commentary. There is a melancholy scene where White Bull goes into a store at the Kehoe resort hotel and sadly looks at the knock-off Native American kitsch for sale. There is an amusing sequence where the hotel clerk asks the Native Americans if they have a reservation.
“In order of disappearance” appeared absolutely Arctic, since it was in Norway. Kehoe likewise seems very frigid and the landscape becomes a character in and of itself, more than the scenes in Denver. The starkness adds to the tonal grimness.
The lodge where Nels and Grace live is a dream house in wood. Viking’s home by contrast is a modernist tribute to glass and the color white. Kudos to the production design team for their work here.
The acting is not the strong suit of this film. Neeson seems almost affect-less most of the time. Dern is completely wasted as she leaves shortly after the death of her son. Her warmth, though, is the only thing that gives you a glimpse into why these two are even together.
Bateman as Viking is a little over the top, although his performance parallels the character in the previous film. Holmes as his son Ryan gives a winning portrayal as he seems very natural if sometimes too perceptive. Jackson as White Bull is nicely understated. The various henchmen, when they are highlighted, are types not true characters.
“Cold Pursuit,” however, is not about the characters so much as the ironic and chaotic twists and turns that result from the murder of one man’s son. The plotting is intricate and has to be timed perfectly so as not to confuse the moviegoer and to advance the story. While not perfectly credible, it is believable enough to keep you riveted to your seat as you wonder what turn the picture will take next.
The ending reflects the dark humor of the film. Whether or not it is satisfying I leave up to the viewer.
The film is far too violent for any children to watch. A strangulation scene in particular is positively gruesome.
The tonal shifts make it difficult to say that I “enjoyed” this movie, although I was engaged throughout the film. If you like revenge/crime/dark comedy pictures, this film is right up your alley.
Rating: Three and a half out of five stars
COLD PURSUIT, an action thriller infused with irreverent humor, stars Liam Neeson as Nels Coxman, a family man whose quiet life with his wife (Laura Dern) is upended following the mysterious death of their son. Nels’ search for justice turns into a vengeful hunt for Viking (Tom Bateman), a drug lord he believes is connected to the death. As one by one each of Viking’s associates “disappear,” Nels goes from upstanding citizen to ice-cold vigilante, letting nothing — and no one — get in his way.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, and Laura Dern
Directed by: Hans Petter Moland
Screenplay by: Frank Baldwin
Based on the movie ‘Kraftidioten’ written by Kim Fupz Aakeson
“Cold Pursuit” is not about the characters so much as the ironic and chaotic twists and turns that result from the murder of one man’s son. The plotting is intricate and has to be timed perfectly so as not to confuse the moviegoer and to advance the story. While not perfectly credible, it is believable enough to keep you riveted to your seat as you wonder what turn the picture will take next.
The ending reflects the dark humor of the film. Whether or not it is satisfying I leave up to the viewer. The tonal shifts make it difficult to say that I “enjoyed” this movie, although I was engaged throughout the film. If you like revenge/crime/dark comedy pictures, this film is right up your alley.