Dark Sense Of Humor;
And Impressive Body Count;
Add Up To Big Fun.
Liam Neeson has pigeonholed himself within the revenge thriller genre the last decade or so, and with Cold Pursuit, he claims his role as an action star is now over. Well, should that prove true, this is a very solid effort to go out on. It has some action, a lot of violence, and some gallows humor reminiscent of Fargo and films of that ilk. In fact, there are several times it feels like a Coen Brothers movie with lesser dialogue, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
This time around, Neeson doesn’t play the same role of name-taking ass kicker. At least, not entirely. He is up against some bad people and does take revenge, but he always comes across as the everyman as opposed to the untouchable hero. It’s a refreshing take on something that has grown weary on the actor, as we get to see him do a bit of what we enjoy, all while the film keeps its tongue planted firmly in cheek. Word of mouth is positive so far, with the main edict being that this movie is just flat-out fun. And that sentiment is spot-on.
Director Hans Petter Moland remade his own Norweigian 2014 film Kraftidioten (translated: In Order of Disappearance), which I really appreciated. While I haven’t seen the original, who better to helm a remake than the original director? Often, in these cases, the common cry is “it’s not the same as the original,” and while this likely isn’t an exact copy, from what I’ve read the atmosphere and general sensibilities remain intact. The main character is still a snow plough operator in a mountain town who finds himself up against local drug dealers when his son is unjustly murdered. From there, a war between two local factions breaks out with him in the middle, hoping to avenge his innocent son. Frank Baldwin’s script is witty, fun and mature, albeit perhaps overlong. A lot of characters are brought in (and subsequently taken out), which helps the film’s pace stay brisk, but a slight trim wouldn’t have hurt it.
Neeson serves his role well, resisting the urge to ham it up and remaining appropriately icy while never coming off as too smart or strong for his adversaries. He has luck and righteous indignation on his side and he knows it. Elsewhere, scores of actors including Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Doman, William Forsythe and more all turn up and turn in solid performances. Only Tom Bateman (as Viking) goes overboard here, becoming a villain so cartoonish it seemed to be drawing the wrong kind of humor. A lot of the laughs in this movie come from simple, well-timed edits, back-and-forth dialogue or awkward, drawn-out sequences, but Bateman seems to be playing his character for laughs that he shouldn’t get. It got grating at times and made it hard to buy into him as this ruthless antagonist. I didn’t want to see him die because he deserved it, I wanted to see him die so he wouldn’t talk anymore. The script also has issues with developing some characters, as so many are brought in as canon fodder, but you won’t always need a reason to care about them to appreciate them meeting their demise.
With a beautiful backdrop at his disposal, cinematographer Philip Øgaard creates some memorable shots that remind us that this small-scale story has large-scale implications. George Fenton, composer of over 100 film scores alone, puts together a good score here, with some powerful moments, particularly late in the film. His music combined with some very inventive ending titles/credits had me pinned to my seat as the house lights went up.
Neeson’s recent comments aside, this is a great time of year to release a movie like this. A lot of people are still catching up on the Oscar nominees and December releases, and family entertainment is filling the theaters ahead of the impending blockbuster season. Cold Pursuit is a revenge thriller with an insurmountable sense of fun amidst the bloodletting, which makes for something that is memorable in more than one area.