2019, R, 118 min. Directed by Hans Petter Moland. Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, Tom Bateman, Micheál Richardson.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 15, 2019
Liam Neeson’s late-career transformation into the Irish reincarnation of Charles Bronson is considerably less surprising if you’re fan enough to recall the actor’s earlier work in Sam Raimi’s first studio film, the woefully underappreciated Darkman. A comic book revenger with a twisted noir vibe, it pre-dates 2008’s Taken – generally regarded as the onset of Neeson’s avenging badass phase – by nearly two decades, and remains a wickedly creative and endlessly watchable riff on the tropes of super-antiheroes.
Cold Pursuit very nearly brings Neeson full circle, imbued as it is with a lower-rent version of the patented Raimi gallows humor. Neeson is Nels Coxman, a professional snowplow operator, loving husband and father, and local “Citizen of the Year” who goes full-on berserker when his son Kyle (Richardson) turns up dead, apparently from a heroin overdose but in actuality collateral damage from local drug cartel kingpin Trevor "The Viking" Calcote’s (Bateman) cocaine trade. After his grief-obliterated wife (Dern, frankly given very little to do) leaves the briefly suicidal antihero-to-be, Coxman uncovers the drug ring and embarks on a mechanized mission of mayhem worthy of Maximum Overdrive. Turns out those massive V-shaped snowplows are every bit as effective at mangling the bad guys as they are clearing rural Rocky Mountain roads.
Norwegian director Moland, remaking his own excellent 2014 thriller In Order of Disappearance, relocates the action to the snowbound Colorado resort hamlet of Kehoe but keeps nearly the entire plot the same. Meanwhile debuting screenwriter Frank Baldwin punches up the English-language script with some appropriately mordant bons mots/morts. A vicious little black comedy masquerading as a generic vigilante justice actioner, Cold Pursuit is whiteout-noir with a pulp fiction edge. That’s not to say it’s a great film. It’s hamstrung by a flurry of subplots that only serve to distract from the core vendetta at hand. Still, it’s far more entertaining and downright crafty than expected.
Moland retains his original film’s steadfast, grim pacing and also a series of running gags involving dueling drug lord minions with wacky nicknames (“Santa,” “The Eskimo,” etc.) and Nels' preferred method of body disposal. (The thugs' increasing mortality rates are foregrounded by intertitles bearing their criminal sobriquet, date of birth, and religion.) Ultimately, the inclusion of off-throughline substories involving the largely ineffectual local cops, parental and familial relations on both sides of the unfolding drug war, and other, non-Neeson-specific melodramatics only serve to clutter up an otherwise above-average, pitch-black comedy of terrors. Neeson’s character in Cold Pursuit recalls William Devane’s in Rolling Thunder by way of Fargo, but really it’s Liam Fucking Neeson and a huge-ass snowplow churning the snow crimson at every opportunity. And that’s all it needs to be.