AN UNEVEN DARK HUMOR THRILLER
Actor Liam Neeson has definitely made a name for himself in Hollywood. The Northern Ireland actor has turned a fine career of being leading man, but (like many actors in Tinseltown) humbly began in either smaller feature films or in supporting roles with some recognizable rising acting talents, including actors Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty, Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission, and Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin. In 1993, Neeson landed a lead role in Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 acclaim film Schindler’s list, which rose the actor in Hollywood and opened the doors to many diverse roles. While Neeson did continue to land plenty of roles in big / prominent movies during the 90s, his started to get mainstream roles toward the late 90s and turning of the millennium…most notably in 2008 with the movie Taken. After gaining favorable reviews / praise from the movie and Neeson’s performance of the movie’s lead character of role Bryan Mills, Neeson started to become a staple in the action / revenge thriller fare, with subsequent follow up Taken sequels in 2012 and 2015 as well as other similar action thriller films like Non-Stop and The Commuter. Now, Summit Entertainment (as well as Studiocanal) and director Hans Petter Moland presents the latest Liam Neeson film with the movie Cold Pursuit; a Hollywood remake of a 2014 Norwegian film. Does this revenge thriller find its aim or does get lost within its own cold / harsh environment?
In a ski resort town near Denver, Colorado, Nils Coxman (Liam Nesson) is a snow plow driver and beloved by his community, trying to be a decent husband for his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), and their son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson). When Kyle shows up dead from a drug overdose, Nils loses his will to live, but soon finds a sense of purpose when his son’s badly beaten friend emerges from the shadow, explaining to the grieving father that a minor mistake with a cocaine shipment led to retaliation from Viking (Tom Bateman), a drug lord who’s dealing with his domestic issues. Enraged, Nils follows the trail of Viking’s connections, meeting with corrupt men and killing them, getting rid of their bodies within the frigid waters of the surrounding area. Not sure what’s going on, Viking assumes trouble is coming from a rival Native American gang, fronted by White Bull (Tom Jackson), declaring war on the locals. While things begin to escalate between Viking and White Bull, Nils is caught in the middle; seeking revenge on Viking, while local cop Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) follows the clues in this peculiar situation of violent disputes.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, Liam Neeson….and his many revenge thriller movies. Don’t get me wrong I love him as an actor. I mean…seriously…. he’s done plenty of good / iconic roles in his career. What’s that meme again…. he’s played a god twice (Clash of the Titans and The Chronicles of Narnia films), been a Jedi Master (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), trained Batman (Batman Begins), and punched a wolf (The Grey) …why would anyone kidnap his daughter (Taken). Yes, Neeson have created a name for himself. Of course, I do love him in Schindler’s List, but his real “popular” franchise of his character Bryan Mills in Taken really did launch him into a subgenre unto itself. Yes, I’m talking about the famous phrase “Another year, another Liam Neeson revenge thriller” …. if you know what I mean. Still, looking beyond his stint the revenge thriller / action realm, I do love several other Neeson roles such as his roles in Kingdom of Heaven, The LEGO Movie, A Monsters Calls….and (of course) The Chronicles of Narnia movies. What can I say… he’s the perfect fit for the voice of Aslan.
This brings me around to talking about Cold Pursuit, a 2019 motion picture that goes back to Taken’s action revenge thriller. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Cold Pursuit is based on a 2014 Norwegian film titled In Order of Disappearance and, while I did read up on the Scandinavian movie (via the internet), I personally did not see it. To be honest, I really didn’t hear about or that it was based on Cold Pursuit. So, who knows…. I might have to check that film out one day. Anyways… there wasn’t a lot of generated “buzz” about Cold Pursuit and I really take notice of the film until I saw the feature’s movie trailer. As I mentioned, Neeson have made a mainstream name for himself in playing lead roles in action thriller films (i.e. “another year, another Liam Neeson revenge thriller”) and that was really what I felt when I saw Cold Pursuit’s movie trailer. It definitely looked interesting; seeing Neeson going after bad guys (assuming the premise of the movie from the trailer) and the film’s cast looked good (after looking on IMDB). Thus, I was interested in seeing this movie, but I sort of pushed seeing Cold Pursuit back in favor of other movies and (eventually) Cold Pursuit got pushed out of my local theaters. So, I finally decided to see the movie (renting it from iTunes) to see if the film was to my liking. And was it? Well, unfortunately, it was a mixed bag. While Neeson was great in the movie (solid as ever) and did have an amusing revenge thriller aspect, Cold Pursuit just ends up being too quirky and too unevenly bland to be a wholesome entertainment endeavor. There’s a decent amount of action revenge in the film, but not enough to be considered one of Neeson’s better projects.
Cold Pursuit is directed by Hans Petter Moland, whose previous directed In Order of Disappearance as well as other films like The Beautiful Country and Aberdeen. Given the nature of directing the original 2014 movie of which this particular movie is based on, Moland seems like a reasonable choice for helming this project; allowing the director to present a new iteration of In Order of Disappearance by within the budget (and means) of a Hollywood motion picture endeavor. In that regard, Moland does succeed and does certainly craft a nice version of his 2014. Like I said, I didn’t get around to see the original film, but I read about and looked it up online (gathering snippets of it here and there). Thus, the core making of the story is still very much intact, but Moland’s “amps” up the cinematic nuances for a western audience viewing entertainment. Naturally, Moland, known how to shape the movie, does deliver on presenting several of the action sequences in the film to be something along the lines of similar Liam Neeson movies, staging plenty brutal for Nels to kill off members of Viking’s crew.
What was kind of surprise about the movie (of which the movie did not showcase) was the quirky black comedy (or rather dark comedy) that usually accompanies the Coen Brothers in saying something like their 1996 movie Fargo. Running along those same veins, Moland, along with the film’s script writer Frank Baldwin, takes a quirky stance in presenting the film’s tone within this manner. Like everything, comedy can be subjective and can vary from person to person as Moland and Baldwin present an amusing dark comedy feature that’s committed from start to finish. Personally, there are moments where this tone of comedy does work, but I’ll mention that later on. Thus, if you’re a fan of the Coen Brother’s Fargo (both the original film and the new TV show), you’ll probably like Cold Pursuit’s quirk sense of humor.
In terms of technical presentation, Cold Pursuit definitely continues to emulate the Coen Brother’s Fargo, with a cold and desolate tundra background setting and all of its various characters moving about its setting. I mention that because the backdrop location of the movie, while not the most elaborate, definitely feels like a character onto its own; utilizing the tundra mountainous location, which was meant to be outside of Denver that was actually filmed in Canada and British Columbia, as the primary setting. Thus, the production team (and scout lay out team) should be noted for their work on the movie as well as the cinematography work by Philip Øgaard helps elevates highlight several paranormal shots outside setting. Also, the movie’s score, which was done by George Fenton, speaks to the quirky nature of the film’s dark comedy within its music.
Problems do quickly arise within the movie, which makes Cold Pursuit’s cinematic storytelling filled with too many criticism holes; lacking the potential the feature strives for. Perhaps the most perplexing thing about this movie is the simple fact that Moland worked on this project and why he decided to remake it. From what I heard, In Order of Disappearance was pretty good. So, why revisit it? For US / American audience of Hollywood influences? To me personally, it just seems like a bizarre move and Moland just might try a bit too hard in trying to make Cold Pursuit a bit edgier…. if you know what I mean. The result makes the film definitely have a R-rating (and justly so), but it still seems like a perplexing remake that probably didn’t need to be revisited. What’s even worse is that Cold Pursuit is utterly dull. Yes, the movie does have its moments that are scattered across the film’s runtime, but the feature really could’ve been done (story-wise) in about half the time of its 119 minutes duration. Because of this, the movie just slogs by as it moves from scene to scene by adding extra pieces and elongated shots / sequences that really don’t go anywhere than just to simply pad the narrative with unnecessary bits. Additionally, the movie has many (and I do mean many) secondary storylines and plot points that are never fully explored as Moland (as well as Baldwin) squander these narrative threads in just a bland manner.
The result is having Cold Pursuit move away from the main story (Nels’s revenge) and present other narrative threads in a weaker concoction and assemblage. A prime example of this is in Viking’s personal life (surrounding his son’s health and well-being) that presents some oddities as well as the rivalry between Viking’s crew and those of the warring Indian gang (the Ute gang). The ideas are all laid out, but the execution of the film’s script and in the presentation just never materialized; creating fragmented areas throughout the narrative and lacking substance. It also doesn’t help that the main story thread is a bit bland and does feel derivate in the same realm of revenge thriller. My biggest pet peeve is the actual dark comedy humor bits that are peppered. While some might like it (as I mentioned above), the movie just tries a little “too hard” in trying to establish itself within this style approach and (personally) just ends up being a bit wacky within its eccentricity to the point of being almost cartoon-ish (like “ACME Dynamite” cartoonish). The film’s script does try toil around with these ideas of many of its various characters having their own personal idiosyncrasies, but the end result just ends up being more bizarre and weird as a more “turning off” than actually buying into their respective character personas. Altogether, the movie definitely has potential to be something, but Moland (again, who created the original film of which this feature is based on) just doesn’t really take the established narrative to the next level or rather to elaborate on all the various subplots that the film’s story has to offer, which is very disappointing.
The cast in Cold Pursuit is pretty good, with plenty of recognizable faces within its varying characters that pop in and out of the feature. However, while the acting talent is definitely present in the movie, the characters themselves (and their motives / persona characteristics) come off as either to wacky (again, playing up the dark comedy aspect of the feature) or just too thinly written. Naturally, actor Liam Neeson leads the charge of the film’s cast; playing the movie’s central protagonist character of Nels Coxman. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Neeson, has been quite adapt to playing the lead roles of action features for the greater part of the last decade or so and certainly showcases that theatrical bravado in Cold Pursuit. The subdued and subtle facial expression that Neeson can pull off is greatly emphasize in his portrayal of Nels, a quiet and reserved man who does display his emotions to the full extent, but does allow his action speak for him. So, Neeson makes Nels a solid one and perhaps the best character (theatrically speaking) in the entire movie. However, compared to some of his past characters he’s played, Nels Coxman is merely just a shadow iteration of them. Behind Neeson’s Nels, the only other character that mainly stands out (as a largely secondary character) is in the character of Trevor “Viking” Calcote, who is played by actor Tome Bateman. Known for his roles in Da Vinci’s Demons, Vanity Fair, and Murder on the Orient Express, Bateman certainly fits the bill as the powerful gang leader that seems quite “unhinged” at some of the things that surround his life, which (again) plays up the quirky comedy nuances that the movie wants to project. While Bateman’s acting is fine, I kind of wished that the film delved more into his machinations and a bit more into his personal life beyond what’s given. I mean, the dealings with his kid and his wife can almost be another film entirely.
The rest of the cast, including actress Laura Dern (Jurassic Park and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi) as Nels’s wife Grace Coxman, actor Micheál Richardson (Vox Lux and Big Dogs) as Nels and Grace’s son Kyle Coxman, actor Tom Jackson (Skinwalkers and North of 60) as the Ute drug kingpin White Bull, actress Julia Jones (Wind River and Westworld) as Viking’s Ute wife Aya, actor William Forsythe (The Rock and Halloween) as Nel’s brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman, actor John Doman (The Wire and You Were Never Really Here) as seasoned police officer John ‘Gip’ Gipsky, actress Emmy Rossum (Shameless and The Phantom of the Opera) as police officer Kim Dash, and young actor Nicholas Holmes (The Shack and Project Blue Book) as Viking’s son Ryan. are the supporting players in Cold Pursuit, but are merely caricatures of sorts. The disappointing factor is that the movie never develops most of these characters beyond their initial setup and simply waste the acting talents of these individuals for throwaway roles. This is clearly noticeable in Dern’s Grace, which really does seem quite pointless in the film, as well as Gipsky / Dash’s involvement in the movie, which could be completely omitted from the feature’s narrative. As a side-note, there are a great host of gang members of Viking’s crew (some of having catchy nicknames), but to list them all completely would be another paragraph or two. To me, the only that does stand out is the character of Mustang (Viking’s right-hand man who also looks after Ryan), who is played by actor Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire and Bridge of Spies).
Nels Coxman seeks revenges and begins his one man’s assault on the drug kingpin Viking in the movie Cold Pursuit. Director Hans Petter Moland latest project sees to remake his own 2014 film, offering up a slice of American / Hollywood flavor to his narrative of revenge and quirky wit. While the feature does have an amusing taste of dark comedy and a sufficient amount of action / complexity, the film does present a mixed bag of a bland revenge narrative, a plethora of thinly-written characters, unbalanced tones, and lacking depth within some plot areas. Personally, I thought this movie was somewhere between decent and fairly okay, but mostly on the disappointing side of things. The story is there and some of the sequences are pretty good. Plus, Neeson was good in the role, but the film just felt too generic, quirky, and not enough substance; lacking precision to both storytelling and cinematic nuances Thus, my recommendation for the movie would be neither a “iffy choice” for fans of the Coen Brother’s dark comedy antics, while a “skip it” for everyone else as the movie doesn’t offer much beyond that; offering up just a bland revenge thriller. Personally, I probably would be interested to see In Order of Disappearance than watching Cold Pursuit again. In the end, while actor Liam Neeson will continue to make movies and star in plenty more action thrillers out there, Cold Pursuit isn’t one of the brightest in his collection; presenting a decent (yet a generically flat) dark humor revenge thriller.
2.9 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)
Released On: February 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 14th, 2019
Cold Pursuit is 119 minutes and is rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references