July 21, 2019

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Cold Pursuit twisted take on action-revenge genre

Neeson back seeking vengeance in film packed with Nordic irony and humour

Actors Tom Bateman and Liam Neeson (right) star in the film Cold Pursuit.

DOANE GREGORY / SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT

Actors Tom Bateman and Liam Neeson (right) star in the film Cold Pursuit.

It wasn’t that long ago Liam Neeson was stating he was giving up late-career action-revenge movies into which he fell in the past few years (Taken, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Run All Night, etc.)

Yet, here he is in Cold Pursuit, a remake of a Norwegian film — In Order of Disappearance starring Stellan Skarsgard — about a father who exacts bloody revenge on the organized crime gang that callously and needlessly killed his son.

Be assured that Cold Pursuit is a somewhat twisted take on the genre, courtesy of director Hans Petter Moland, who also helmed the Skarsgard version. It’s a film steeped in Nordic irony and humour, though that doesn’t entirely translate to an American setting. (In fact, the film was shot in British Columbia.)

Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a snowplow operator who keeps the roads clear for a mountain resort town near Denver. It’s such an important job, Nels is awarded a citizen of the year award at a gala dinner, much to the amusement of his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), who knows Nels to be a man of few words, sometimes infuriatingly so.

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It wasn’t that long ago Liam Neeson was stating he was giving up late-career action-revenge movies into which he fell in the past few years (Taken, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Run All Night, etc.)

Yet, here he is in Cold Pursuit, a remake of a Norwegian film — In Order of Disappearance starring Stellan Skarsgard — about a father who exacts bloody revenge on the organized crime gang that callously and needlessly killed his son.

Be assured that Cold Pursuit is a somewhat twisted take on the genre, courtesy of director Hans Petter Moland, who also helmed the Skarsgard version. It’s a film steeped in Nordic irony and humour, though that doesn’t entirely translate to an American setting. (In fact, the film was shot in British Columbia.)

Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a snowplow operator who keeps the roads clear for a mountain resort town near Denver. It’s such an important job, Nels is awarded a citizen of the year award at a gala dinner, much to the amusement of his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), who knows Nels to be a man of few words, sometimes infuriatingly so.

Liam Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a Colorado snowplow operator seeking vengeance for the murder of his son.

DOANE GREGORY / SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT

Liam Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a Colorado snowplow operator seeking vengeance for the murder of his son.

As he is accepting the award, Nels’s son Kyle (Micheál Richardson, Neeson’s son) is kidnapped from his job as a baggage handler at the Denver airport. He is discovered next morning, the apparent victim of a heroin overdose.

That doesn’t sit with Nels, who is first suicidal and then gripped by slow-burn rage when he learns his son was targeted by a Denver drug gang. With a single name as a clue — "Speedo" (Michael Eklund) — Nels sets out to avenge the murder, a journey that takes him slowly and methodically up the organizational ladder of a gang headed by "Viking" (Tom Bateman), a meticulously tailored, pompous psychopath.

In contrast to Nels, Viking is very much preoccupied with inflicting control on the life of his own son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), an unlikely child prodigy raised by thugs.

When his men start disappearing, Viking stupidly blames a hitherto friendly competitor, a Ute gangster known as White Bull (Tom Jackson). Killing White Bull’s son instigates a triple dynamic of angry fathers seeking vengeance on behalf of their sons. Along the way, the list of perished soldiers punctuates the movie with black-screen memorial cards. It’s a droll acknowledgment that, on some level, this is very much a body-count movie.

Still, it’s a problematic one, while there is much to admire here. It’s interesting that while Nels is introduced as a peaceable fellow, his violence is telegraphed in the apocalyptic ferocity of his giant snowplow. Also admirable: the violence in the film is never satisfying in the vein of, say, Taken. It seems to leave everyone empty.

Moland proves to be a tad tone-deaf in dealing with his Indigenous characters. When Viking decides to wage war on White Bull, the beat of war drums insinuates itself on the soundtrack, a moment that may get more than a few eyes rolling. That said, the Ute gangsters aren’t portrayed in an especially offensive manner, other than... the gangster thing. In fact, former Winnipegger Jackson is given a beautiful dramatic moment on the Colorado ski slopes, and he emerges as an interesting supporting character who has more in common with Nels than Viking.

As for Neeson, he handles the role well enough, but he should still be considered miscast. He carries the baggage of all his past revenge movies, and thus his presence detracts from the sardonic tone of the piece more than it adds.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Cold Pursuit

DOANE GREGORY / SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT

Cold Pursuit

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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