Cold Pursuit. 2019.
Directed by Hans Petter Moland.
Starring Liam Neeson, Emmy Rossum, Julia Jones, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, William Forsythe, Domenick Lombardozzi, Tom Jackson, and John Doman.
A snowplow driver seeks revenge against the drug dealers he thinks killed his son.
Liam Neeson’s latest special-set-of-skills warpath is an icy tale of Coloradoan drug rivalries, compelling like a wedge that cuts through January’s powder-soft competition. Hans Petter Moland returns to the scene of his original crime for 2019’s American update – wait. You’re aware Cold Pursuit is a remake of Moland’s own Norwegian crime spree starring Stellan Skarsgård, In Order Of Disappearance? What justification is there for such an exercise? In Order Of Disappearance and Cold Pursuit both strum quirky Fargo-esque strings with stone-cold-killer intent. Two equally frigid revenge plots, one director ensuring success by – most importantly – retaining creative control.
In other words, if you’re hellbent on remaking foreign films, retain creators for your best shot at doing justice to existing properties.
Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a humble snowplow driver who keeps a three-mile stretch of road clear from Kehoe to Denver. The small town’s Citizen Of The Year. No one would suspect Nels’ kin, Kyle (Michael Richardson), to turn up dead from an overdose. “My son wasn’t a druggie,” Nels repeats, unable to accept a reality wife Grace (Laura Dern) grieves through. Nels is right though – Kyle wasn’t a druggie. He got messed up with the wrong friend, pissed off the wrong drug kingpin, and now Nels has only one option: kill every last bastard who had a hand in Kyle’s death.
Recollections of Coen brothers projects past are a natural comparison point for Cold Pursuit. Cavalier attitudes towards death, intertwined parties that keep multiplying in numbers (Nels, dealers, rival Indians, police, etc.), oddball interactions like a paragliding henchmen who exits frame and reappears *way* later with comedic timing – Moland enjoys Kehoe’s snowbound isolation maybe a bit too much, but tells an uncivilized tale of territorial attacks and collateral damage while still keeping spirits bright. (I say “too much” because certain gags draw on to distract from the gunsmoke at hand if only to accentuate lovestruck bodyguards, motel room “teepee tricks,” and beginner hitman guile with a smile.)
Neeson isn’t repurposing Bryan Mills choreography. Nels is a simple plowman with a sawed-off hunting rifle, read-it-in-a-crime-novel body disposal methods, and punches that knock teeth out like Chicklets. Nels Coxman – a slight twist on Skarsgård’s Nils Dickman (lol) – is quintessential “Old Man” Neeson mavericking down to muttered one-liners and emotionless consequence with each hammer-clicked service of justice. Neeson brings more imposition than Skarsgård, but the same reserved rage in a wounded father’s heart. Undeterred by unpassable winter weather, footsoldier nicknames (Speedo, Limbo, Viking, Bone), or absolutely no sleep (someone still has to plow overnight).
Cold Pursuit may be a 118-minute ice sculpture in need of a bit more shaving, but Moland’s command of tone is unwavering (in a good way). As Neeson’s blood pressure stays steady under duress, Tom Bateman’s pop-a-vessel turn as cocaine peddler “Viking” is a lesson in gangland loyalty (“The Eskimo” shows no honor). His a merciless commander mobster films love to exaggerate: ethics driven, hyper-agitated, snaps on a dime. Viking’s competition is Native American White Bull, played by an equally ruthless Tom Jackson who’s actions speak as loud as Bateman’s screamed threats. Three men, tangled motivations, all primed to hurdle into one another like combusting stars under a frozen dome. Moland never one to let their gravitational pulls weaken as bodies pile up.
It’s the little things that stand out in Cold Pursuit. Title cards that read a deceased character’s name and affiliation symbol (In Order Of Disappearance reuse). How George Fenton’s plucky backcountry score lightens bullet-to-the-skull moods or plays fireside music that soothes over Nels’ latest dispatch. Intermittent violence splatters red mists over white snowbanks, whiter bridal dresses, and sinks evil men wrapped in chicken wire so fishes can chew away their decomposing flesh. Humor at the Cleveland Browns’ expense, a smoking $20 bill floating to the ground (cinematic death symbolism throughout), criminals getting their chance to unwind (White Bull’s men tossing snowballs at a mountainside resort/Viking’s men betting on NFL games) – like I said, it’s the little things that accentuate Moland’s otherwise sorrowful stakes. As tough-guy peculiar it is morally unforgiving.
A movie this heavy with corpses lives or dies by supporting players. Entry level thugs such as Michael Eklund’s “Speedo” are important to story, and Cold Pursuit assembles a crack team (that, coincidentally, excels at getting cracked). Domenick Lombardozzi as “Mustang,” William Forsythe as Nels’ brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman, Glen Gould as “War Dog.” In the grand scheme? Mere meat for the grinder. Emmy Rossum the hot-shot rookie patrol cop and John Doman her unenthusiastic riding officer? Investigative tails to light a fire under Nels’ scheme. Bit parts to some, but wonderfully integrated by virtue of character actors who all own even the smallest, most insignificant interrogation victim.
The premise of Cold Pursuit is simple – man loses son, man gets pissed, man gets even – but don’t let Hans Petter Moland’s tundra serenity fool you. Nels Coxman’s quest for vengeance heats winter’s cinema season, far funnier and more convivial than Neeson’s steely regard lets on. Bloody knuckles and freezing temperatures are the two guarantees Moland makes, and while that brutish blizzard sounds generic, this beautiful snowflake of a narcotics-dusted kerfuffle becomes one of Neeson’s most accomplished post-Taken performances. Whether he’s reading sleepy children excerpts from snowplow merchandise trade catalogs or smashing yet another codenamed dirtbag’s mouth in, Nels Coxman can do it all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).