Cold Pursuit movie review: Liam Neeson is unstoppable in this mostly dark, sometimes funny revenge thriller

Anupam Kant Verma

Feb 09, 2019 12:25:51 IST


A Liam Neeson actioner always, and quite literally, lives up to its title. From Taken and Run All Night to The Commuter, Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones, right over to Taken 2—where the inciting incident from the previous film takes place again—we walk into the theatre knowing fairly well what we’ve paid to watch. The Grey changed that. Little did we suspect that we’re stumbling into the greyest zone Neeson’s little sub-genre of film would ever occupy.

And then comes Cold Pursuit, Neeson’s latest, which earns its title stripes and lets a bunch of bad guys take away his son in a town that seems to have a perpetual winter. Predictably, this invites his wrath and he begins finding and killing them, steadily working his way towards the drug lord at the top, seemingly unstoppable. When suddenly, director Hans Petter Moland jettisons Neeson’s killing spree and picks up a newly minted narrative strand. One involving a turf war between Viking, the drug lord Neeson is after, and White Bull, his American Indian rival. Moland appears to have forgotten about Neeson’s vengeful mission altogether.

 Cold Pursuit movie review: Liam Neeson is unstoppable in this mostly dark, sometimes funny revenge thriller

Liam Neeson in Cold Pursuit.

Slowly, we start to grasp Moland’s absurdist reworking of the revenge drama. The clues were there right before our eyes. In Tom Bateman’s hilariously exaggerated performance as the villainous Viking. In the seemingly off-kilter incoherent musical score that accompanies the deaths or the inter titles that keep a log of the characters dying on-screen. The reed-dry, in-your-face jokes and one-liners that ‘enliven’ the narrative.

I mean, this is a film where Nels Coxman, Neeson’s character, is repeatedly the butt of jokes owing to, you guessed it right, his name. For every comic conversational build-up to killings (think Tarantino), there is a poignant scene like the one at the morgue where the son’s body is hauled up painfully slowly before his grieving parents, alongside the annoyingly creaky sound of the lever. What’s missing—or been disposed of—is the tightly wound, straightforward narrative that underscores the Neeson films. In its place is a shaggydog, wayward stoner of a film that shoots its violent set-pieces almost like an after-thought, willingly drawing attention away from them.

Cold Pursuit is a film where Neeson is purposely made to not do the hard work. Are you serious, the director appears to be guffawing, do you really expect one man to take down an entire criminal organisation?

He underscores the absurd audacity by mounting an equally absurd film teeming with pitch-black humour. Sometimes, when it feels like he’s just having a good time, he proceeds to throw an emotional grenade into the joviality.

In a scene where the American Indians are preparing to hunt down Viking’s men, Moland suddenly cuts to shots of them playing with snowballs. They notice their boss, White Bull, in the distance, imitating a flying bird as he watches skiers hurtle down the hill. His happiness abruptly gives way to agonised howling when he remembers the ravishment of this, his ancestral land, that made way for these icons of modernity.

It’s a strange, strange exercise set in the alpine town of Kehoe, where Coxman works as a snow-plower, dutifully clearing the way for tourists to drive into the civilisation lying beyond the mounds of white. His simple life is shattered when his son is killed by a bunch of drug-runners. The film gives the Neeson we know his moment in the spotlight, before laving the narrative in grief and absurdity. It recognises the absurdity of a revenge drama as its target and goes at it all guns blazing.

From the token black guy and Asian woman to the ultimately powerless police officers, the gay lovers hiding their love from a cruel, cold world, Cold Pursuit features a virtual roster of stock characters. All trapped within the cold climate of a genre where the story mows them down formulaically for laughs and adrenaline. Neeson’s character has it the worst of all. Coxman is so hopelessly trapped within this bleak world that he rarely manages to convey his grief. His wife leaves this man devoid of a single grieving word or gesture, leaving him to quietly plough through the snow gathering around him, as it always did.

This make-believe world that Moland inherited from revenge drams of the past, he proceeds to assault with the only weapon he thinks might work: acerbic absurdism. His pursuit isn’t as cold and calculated as Neeson’s. It offers tiny flames of hope amid the wintry bleakness. And laughs, lots and lots of laughs. Some sharp, others blunt, not unlike life. Moland’s film depicts fathers looking for sons, often long after they’re gone. Then there are sons looking for fathers.

A weariness seems to settle over everyone in the film, as if weighed down by the burden of the past. This is most striking in the case of White Bull. He walks sombrely through a hotel lobby while gazing at American Indian antiques, now put on sale for the world to buy. The weight of his ancestors seems to be visible in each laboured step he takes. Later, we watch Neeson and him, two fathers—a gangster and a snow-plower—drive away in a snow-plower, revelling in the bittersweet aftertaste of revenge, momentarily united by grief.

Outside, snow falls on tombstones, soon to bury them.

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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2019 12:25:51 IST