Cold Pursuit (2019)
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Michael Richardson
Synopsis: A snow plow driver seeks revenge against the drug dealers he thinks killed his son. Based on the 2014 Norwegian film 'In Order of Disappearance'.
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references)
Release Date: February 8, 2019
It can be very exciting when a film surprises you--taking you on a path you didn't anticipate. Generally this is a good thing, a predictable story is a boring story. But a film can surprise not just through the story, but how the story is told. Liam Neeson's latest film Cold Pursuit comes across as another high-octane action thriller, offering up another setup that lets one of world's most renowned action stars unleash vengeance against those who have wronged him. And while Cold Pursuit delivers the goods in that area, it surprisingly (and unfortunately) delivers it through the lens of black comedy.
It could be said the film needed this tonal shift to avoid coming across as simply "Taken in the snow." And indeed the premise is strikingly similar to the film that's responsible for single-handedly shifting the Oscar-winning actor's late career trajectory toward the action genre. But the problem here is the black comedy approach weakens his character, as the emotional pain and hurt from losing his son is lost in the film's relentless attempt to infuse comedy into non-comedic situations. Not all the moments fail--several of them land and in fact my theater--though mostly empty--was joyfully laughing throughout much of the film. In black comedy fashion, most of these comedic moments arise from the manner in which individuals are executed, and the film accentuates this by including a title on screen every time a character dies--complete with their name and nickname, as a type of memorium. It's a clever throw to the audience in order to honor these fallen characters, as if we cared about these gang members in any capacity in the first place.
Despite the problematic tonal shift into black comedy, the film is well paced, especially for a near two hour run time. As Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) searches for and infiltrates the gang responsible for his son's death, we learn more about their operations, who's all involved, and their interactions with a rival Native American gang led by "White Bull" (Tom Jackson). As you expect halfway through watching the film, it all comes down to one violent shootout; it's just a matter of who lives and who dies.
The best elements Cold Pursuit has going for it are its setting and cinematography. The film was shot on location in Canada, and it shows. The cinematography is filled with wide shots displaying the isolating snowy canvas, with some snow shots displaying eight-plus feet. The contained setting serves the story well, and the cinematography even artfully plays with Nel's snowplow, intentionally paralleling its driving force with Nel's as he relentlessly searches for his son's killer.
Cold Pursuit, though sporadically entertaining, is ultimately an empty, forgettable action flick. Its black comedy approach erases any substance the story had at the beginning, and the film doesn't deliver near enough laughs to make it worthwhile. Sadly its snowy, isolating setting reminded me of Neeson's far more thoughtful and entertaining survival film The Grey, which was widely glossed over by audiences. I'm sure Neeson's career as an action star is far from over, but here's hoping his next project is more memorable.
Written by Anthony Watkins, February 14, 2019