cold pursuit review

After Taken, Liam Neeson’s career changed drastically. He went from being the dramatic actor from Schindler’s List to an official ass-kicker, inhabiting action movies that could best be described as Dad Rock – films tailor-made for fathers across the land to enjoy. This newfound reputation occasionally backfires, though. The most obvious example is The Grey, a fantastic, haunting movie about death and grief that was marketed as Liam Neeson Fights Wolves. The marketing sunk the movie in a lot of people’s minds.

Now here comes Cold Pursuit, which might suffer the same fate. The ads play up the angle that this film involves Neeson out for revenge, and while that’s certainly a part of the film, there’s a lot more going on here. And I don’t know if casual moviegoers are prepared for that.

An almost identical remake of the Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, Cold Pursuit finds Disappearance director Hans Petter Moland copying what he did before, while adding some new layers as well. The premise is the same: a snowplow driver (Neeson) goes from mild-mannered to bloodthirsty when his son is murdered by some drug dealers. Neeson’s character, the delightfully named Nels Coxman, launches almost immediately into violence. He finds one of the goons who bumped-off his son and beats his face in. Then he begins trying to track down the others involved.

What he doesn’t realize is he’s caught in the middle of a turf war between two rival drug lords. One is the whiny, petulant Viking (Tom Bateman), who is very strict about his young son’s diet and employs a vast network of bespoke henchmen. The other is Native American White Bull (Tom Jackson), who is forever being reminded of the fact that whites kicked his people off their own land. It’s this drug war that turns Cold Pursuit into something more than your standard revenge thriller. There’s a playfulness here, mixed with a kind of sadness. Moland will juxtapose a charming snowball fight with White Bull’s men against sudden bursts of violence.

Neeson is, as always, a welcome presence. He can play this sort of role in his sleep at this point, but that doesn’t mean he’s sleepwalking. Nels is likable, even when he’s shoving sawed-off rifles into people’s mouths. But Cold Pursuit feels less about Nels and more about White Bull – it’s almost as if Moland has tricked audiences into coming for Neeson’s ass-kicking, only to unveil a more personal story about indigenous people forced to deal with stupid white men. Jackson’s performance as White Bull is quiet and understated, and gets great mileage from knowing glances. It helps that Bateman’s Viking is so comically annoying, behaving like a spoiled brat who has just been told he won’t be getting any dessert. 

This all works, for the most part. Cold Pursuit is full of big laughs – one running joke involves a title card popping up with a character’s name every time they’re killed off. The script, by Frank Baldwin, feels very much like a screenwriter’s showcase, in which every character, no matter how small, gets some sort of backstory. The only person this doesn’t apply to, tragically, is Laura Dern, as Nels’ wife Grace. It should be against the law to put Laura Freakin’ Dern in your movie and give her nothing to do. Dern’s character is only around for the first act of the movie. She grieves her son, resents her husband, and then seems to vanish. I kept waiting for her to return in the third act of the movie, but alas, it was not to be. Talk about a rip-off.

Overall, though, Cold Pursuit is refreshing. I went in expecting some sort of mindless, low-brow action film (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and got something deeper instead. Philip Øgaard‘s cinematography is often breathtaking, making great use of the snowcapped mountains and ice-cold vistas (the movie is set in Colorado, but was actually shot in British Columbia). On top of all this, Moland isn’t afraid to grind everything to a halt in order to create quiet character moments – like when White Bull wanders through a casino’s shopping center and comes across stores selling offensive, culturally appropriated items. Or a scene where two of Viking’s henchmen reveal themselves to be lovers. All of this is wonderful – I just worry that audiences are going to feel cheated. Yes, you will get scenes of Liam Neeson murdering bad guys here. But you’ll also get so much more. 

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net