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It’s got to the point where one has to assume Liam Neeson is going to eventually have his Zimmer frame weaponised so that he can continue to star in revenge thrillers. The Schindler’s List actor continues to headline as a father with a special set of skills and nothing to lose, who literally ploughs through the criminal underground.
Cold Pursuit is no different, an action crime drama and dark comedy based on the Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance. The original starred Stellan Skarsgard, taking place between a vegan gangster, mafia boss and the community’s honourable citizen, who takes to the winter mountains of Norway to avenge his son.
The American remake, also directed by Hans Petter Moland, is set in the fictional ski town of Kehoe outside of Denver, Colorado. A black comedy, it settles in as a snowplough driver catalyses and becomes entangled in a merciless turf war between two drug syndicates. Nels Coxman sets about killing his way up the food chain in an attempt to off the snake’s head, who is ultimately responsible for his son’s death. A snowy crime drama thriller, the film has touches of Fargo and Wind River, taking the black comedy at the heart of Fargo and interspersing it in the crime mystery saga of Wind River.
Thankfully, Liam Neeson isn’t some retired special ops bad-ass but rather given a more realistic representation as an older man with a sly and unexpected approach. While Cold Pursuit falls into the territory of many of Neeson’s previous films, racking up a body count and taking a brutal yet efficient approach to a spate of revenge killings, it’s slightly more layered and nuanced. With each killing comes an epitaph of the character’s name and nickname, probably an overthrow from the original’s concept, which does become quite repetitive yet keeps the alternative reality at play.
“You’re about to meet your dressmaker.”
There’s little spoon-feeding with the film often skipping ahead to the next scene not becoming preoccupied with violent and grisly deaths. This keeps Cold Pursuit moving at a clipped pace allowing Neeson to weave between the two drug cartels without having to be involved in every scene. Colourful and complex gang boss leaders add some spice and texture to an otherwise straightforward shoot ’em up. It’s one of those films where the characters are more important then the story, steeping the audience in gangland politics and street justice with a quirky offbeat tone.
Shooting in the snow, adding snowploughs into the mix and transplanting the story in Colorado makes sense if you want to remake a film for global audiences. While you get the impression that the director is simply remaking his film in English, in a different setting with Liam Neeson, it certainly does carry an international flavour and artistic credibility. Laura Dern is wasted and it would have been nice to have had some stronger female characters or explored some of these subplots in greater detail. Cold Pursuit also struggles to find the right tone. Neeson isn’t specifically designed for heartwarming or funny and it’s a bit of a balancing act trying to figure out exactly what kind of dark crime comedy caper Cold Pursuit is going for.
The dark comedy certainly has its place, dulling the frequent violence and giving Cold Pursuit a playful undertone. While it’s not breaking any new ground, leaves a number of loose ends and has echoes of familiarity based on Neeson’s casting and its influences, it’s fresh enough to keep you invested in the characters and attentive to the scattered storytelling. It’s not going to change your life, but if you enjoy an average Liam Neeson action vehicle and any of the aforementioned films it does enough to clock in as another middling snowy crime drama comedy like Thin Ice and The Ice Harvest.
The bottom line: Offbeat
Release date: 15 March 2019
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Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling is 2Oceansvibe’s Resident Film Critic, a “thought leader” (AFDA) and “our generation’s Barry Ronge” (Brothers Streep), who continues to review, write, present, promote and adjudicate film for a host of websites, radio stations, magazines, newspapers, TV shows, festivals and events.
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