Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson, is a meta revenge action film, pitting the giant, stoic bad-ass Neeson against a drug lord and his kingdom of cronies for a very bad thing they do to someone he loves. Neeson plays Nels Coxman a snow plow driver in a fictional town in the Rockies called Kehoe that actually seems to get more snow than us, here in Watertown, NY. Nels’s industrial sized snow pusher clears roads not only for local people to get to and from work, but for tourists to get to fancy resorts to ski. Incredible landscapes of mountains and unbelievably deep snow in a vastness that seems eternal are beautiful, but also oppressive, creating a world where it would be easy for someone to disappear and not be found. This is exactly what begins to happen shortly into the second act of the film. As a matter of fact Cold Pursuit is based on a Norwegian film called, “In the Order of Disappearance.”
For a while this dark comic thriller has real pizazz and zip as the bodies quickly pile up and Neeson’s stone faced old man proves an almost robotic, ruthless killing machine, which even at 66 can just get things done. But when the film opens up to include dozens of more characters; cronies, associates, rivals of sleazy Denver drug lord Trevor “Viking” Calcote, and move away from Neeson’s character it started to lose my interest. Tom Bateman plays Viking, and he does a great job as a ruthless, psychotic, charismatic criminal, who only loves his son, Ryan (played gamely by child actor Nicholas Holmes). Bodies keep piling up, but not necessarily at the hand of Nels and there is barely a single character we care about. If the film had stayed with the original concept of Nels’ revenge binge escalating and spiraling out of control like a farce, to the point of ridiculousness and as it did so, it just wound the noose around Nels tighter, than I think this would have been a highly original and funny film. Instead its concentration on Viking and the ancillary characters and his rivalry with Native American drug dealers aspires to Quentin Tarantino black-comedy-crime-violence-serpentine loopiness, and it never gets there. Especially after asking us and misleading us to, invest in Neeson’s character. It doesn’t help that Neeson’s wife, played by Laura Dern is barely in the film, before she too disappears. Dern is shamelessly underused. Let’s hope she got a cool trip to the Rockies and nice paycheck for her very brief gig.
Cold Pursuit’s location is interesting and the winter scenery, if not always realistic, is gorgeous and Denver almost looks glamorous in this film. It’s well acted and it is never boring, but for me the lack of focus, character empathy and a generally smug idea that “we are all being clever and ironic” left me a little meh.