|Posted by Nick Spake on February 7, 2019 at 2:10 PM|
Ever since redefining his career in “Taken” over a decade ago, Liam Neeson has become synonymous with playing grizzled old men who kill their way through hordes of henchmen, typically on some sort of revenge quest. Fifteen minutes into “Cold Pursuit,” a remake of a 2014 Norwegian film, it appears Neeson is going to give us more of the same. As the plot unfolds, however, Hans Petter Moland’s film becomes more like a Coen brother’s picture, particularly “Fargo.” In addition to sharing a snowy setting in common, both movies feature a plucky female police officer who wants to see justice served and villains that aren’t as competent as they think. There’s a particularly gruesome death towards the end that likely took a page from the infamous wood chipper scene. Even with all these parallels, “Cold Pursuit” still emerges with a unique voice and one of Neeson’s most entertaining performances.
Neeson plays Nelson Coxman, a snowplow driver and a pillar of the Rocky Mountain community. Nelson’s family life is obliterated, however, upon learning that his son died of a heroin overdose. Growing increasingly distant from his wife (Laura Dern), Nelson is just about ready to commit suicide until he learns that his son’s death is linked to a drug cartel. Nelson begins to assassinate his way up the ladder with a head honchonicknamed Viking (Tom Bateman) awaiting at the top. With an impulsive tendency to shoot first and ask questions never, Viking jumps to the conclusion that a rival drug cartel is behind these murders, sparking a gang war.
Part of what Nelson an interesting protagonist is that he’s not a retired CIA agent like Bryan Mills. He’s not a cop like John McClane, a war veteran like John Rambo, or a hitman like John Wick either. He’s just an ordinary guy with nothing left to lose, giving him the drive needed to take out the criminals at the bottom of the cartel’s totem pole. Nelson doesn’t become a one-man army overnight, however, quickly realizing that Viking is out of his league. After all, Nelson has never killed up until this point, learning everything he knows about disposing bodies from crime movies. Nelson thus turns to his retired criminal brother (William Forsythe) for help, opening the door to several more colorful characters.
Although “Cold Pursuit” starts off as Nelson’s story, it slowly grows into an ensemble piece that sees various people get roped into a colossal mess. We get great supporting performances from Julia Jones as Viking’s strong-willed ex-wife, Domenick Lombardozzi as a cartel enforcer living a closeted lifestyle, and Tom Jackson as an aging drug lord. Bateman is the real scene-stealer, however, having a ball with every second he’s on screen while still crafting a legitimately creepy presence. Where so many villains in modern black comedies are played with a straight face, Viking is the winking devil we deserve. Hot on the cold trail is Emmy Rossum as a detective who senses that snow is about to hit the fan.
This entire movie is like a snowball rolling down a mountain. It starts off small, but eventually gains momentum and grows much bigger. This naturally leads to more and more people getting caught in the crossfire until the snowball finally reaches its end. As grim as the film is, Frank Baldwin’s screenplay finds the gleeful humor in the macabre. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times it’s over-the-top, but the film is always a blast. As far as revenge movies go, this one is best served cold.
Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars