Cold Pursuit


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Cold Pursuit
"You might be forgiven for thinking: oh no! This is just Taken with snow! In every sense. But then, the film turns and something not quite right that you had begun to notice about it begins to take hold." | Photo: ©2019 STUDIOCANAL S.A.S All Rights Reserved

Oh Liam! How could you?

That disappointment, echoed in dozens of editorials and showbiz think pieces this morning, relates to Neeson's bizarre decision, mid-interview about his latest film, Cold Pursuit, to drop a bomb in the form of 'intimate personal reveal'. He had, he claims, once responded to the rape of a friend by wandering round town for a week with the intention of murdering a black person. This, he continues, was a bad thing, a thing he learnt from.

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The reason for bringing it up now? Well, he suggested, it explains the revenge motive and Cold Pursuit, is very much about revenge, or retribution. Up there with Neeson's stock-in-trade Taken franchise (they hurt my family!) and the Equaliser (they hurt my friend!). We'll get back to that.

Meanwhile, though, it explained why I, along with not a few of the reviewers waiting to go into the preview of Cold Pursuit last night, were not happy with the film's star. Not planning to mark it down as act of revenge (sic): but certainly far less enamoured of Neeson than we had been 24 hours previously.

As sentiment, that lasted all of about 15 minutes. Cold Pursuit starts in much the same way your average revenge gore-fest starts. The character of Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is set up in the first scenes, through interaction with his stoner wife Grace (Laura Dern) as typical strong silent male. He drives the snow plough through the drifts in the eternally snowbound Colorado town of Kehoe, which makes the local citizenry very happy, and is not terribly good with all that soft stuff, like words and socialising.

Son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson) works at a local airport, and is on screen just long enough to be abducted and killed – a heroin overdose forcibly injected – and like the small pebble that sets off a mighty avalanche, so begins a course of events that will lead to the eventual slaughter of most of the crims in the vicinity of Kehoe (and large parts of Denver, too). Ooer!

For Kyle's death leads to the rapid disintegration of both his personal life and his marriage, as Grace believes the heroin narrative, believes, therefore that Nels' taciturn ways are part of the problem. His world is on the brink of dissolving: he is about to kill himself when, like some anti-angel, Kyle's buddy Dante (Wesley MacInnes) arrives in the nick of time and explains it was all about organised crime.

And we're off! In quick succession, Nels despatches three local drug dealers. And since he is just an ordinary guy, no room here for stylised violence or martial arts high-kicking. Their ends are swift, brutal, bloody, and there is much blood, dribble and broken teeth.

At which point you might be forgiven for thinking: oh no! This is just Taken with snow! In every sense. But then, the film turns and something not quite right that you had begun to notice about it begins to take hold. For me, it was the moment director Hans Petter Molland played a supposed emotional mortuary scene, as Nels and Grace identify Kyle, for laughs. A moment where you shake your head in disbelief and go “they did that?”

After which, quirkiness, with a capital kw-, just keeps on keeping on. For behind the local drug dealers sits sociopathic boss Viking (Tom Bateman), who alternates moments of homicidal rage with throwing his son's junk food lunch out the window and offering his ex-wife thousands of dollars if she'll just shut up about him losing his son's school kitbag.

Viking is accompanied by a motley crew of henchmen, each revealed, as the film unfolds, to be so much more than the personality-free target we have become used to from the usual revenge film. Each brings something that is not exactly comic, more just ...quirk. Even queer: has Molland finally queered the revenge trope?

Matters get complicated as Viking assumes his missing dealers are the work of local 'Indian' crime syndicate (Native American – but look out for a shameless subversion of language there) headed by White Bull (Tom Jackson). Nels' small acts of revenge are now setting off a major turf war, bringing into play an eager local detective (Emmy Rossum) who, in her innocence and enthusiasm feels like a very conscious callback to Fargo's Marge Gunderson.

This is comedy of the absurd: just check out Viking's rage that a paid assassin has not followed the rules of his trade, the honour code: or that after someone abducts his son, they don't instantly get in touch to discuss terms. “It's just not done, don't you know!”

Which brings us back to Neeson's comments and a couple of other aspects of this film. It is very much about relations between fathers and sons, with a series of relationships – Nels', Viking's, White Bull's – paraded for us to compare and contrast.

It is also clear that the director is not greatly enamoured of any claim that women are the gentler, more emotionally connected sex. For in the end, it is Grace, who has got her son very wrong, not Nels, despite the fact he never talked much and only ever went on long manly hunting trips with him. His sister-in-law is not much better, spitting on her husband's grave and stalking off in a huff. Not even our detective hero, who gets closer to what is going on than her complacent partner, is free from flaws.

Somewhere in there, are messages about not just toxic masculinity but toxic femininity as well and as the credits start to roll a sense that the overall message is that the good place to be is not the heat of revenge, but the aftermath, when rage is parted, you can put down your guns (and get back to ploughing the snow).

All of which makes Neeson's comments that bit more unfortunate, misplaced. They relate, tangentially, to the core of this movie. But Cold Pursuit is so much more. Without Neeson's intervention, I might even suggest a classic in the making. Not Fargo: but not far off, either.

With his comments, focusing attention on just one theme within this film, I can see it taking a critical hit, which would be sad. None of these revenge films are real: all highlight aspects of the hyper-masculine, from violence to white-knighting, that we would be better off without. But they are also capable of being very entertaining.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2019
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A snowplow driver seeks revenge against the drug dealers he thinks killed his son.
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Director: Hans Petter Moland

Writer: Frank Baldwin, Kim Fupz Aakeson

Starring: Emmy Rossum, Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, Julia Jones. David O'Hara

Year: 2019

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Norway, Canada, US


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