Cold Pursuit is an interesting cinematic case. It is an English language remake of the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, starring Stellan Skarsgard. Both movies are directed by Norwegian native Hans Peter Moland and were you to watch the trailers back to back, you will be surprised at the level of replication going on here. The new movie also makes an interesting case study for the theatrical elements that can be pointed to defining Hollywood cinema. And that’s not just because running regular Liam Neeson is at the forefront of it.
But at the same time, it isn’t entirely that definitive.
Nelson “Nels” Coxman is a simple man leading a content life. He is a snowplough driver at a Colorado ski resort, and he lives happily with his wife Grace (Laura Dern) and son Kyle. After winning “Citizen of the Year” for his dedication to his work, Nelson’s life comes crashing down as his son dies from a suspected drug overdose. His marriage on the ropes and just before he can take his life, he learns that Kyle was killed by a drug cartel, led by the psychopathic Trevor Calcote (Tom Bateman), also known as “Viking”. Seeking revenge, Nels starts to murder his way up the cartel’s ranks,
I left the cinema very confused as to what I had just watched. On the one hand, Cold Pursuit takes steps to try and distinguish itself from Liam Neeson’s action thriller lineup, movies such as The Commuter and the Taken franchise. It has an artistic flair to it. The film makes use of title cards and a very chilly colour palette. Each death record is followed by the victim’s name, nickname, and the symbol of their respective religion. Moland’s camera likes to drift on certain shots, which can range from simply looking at a hotel lobby, to a gigantic frozen waterfall. But on the other hand, it is just a clear-cut revenge story that needs to deliver on its implications. And that story is easily distracted, even without the stylistic elements.
Liam Neeson is an action star with nuance. While I much prefer to see him in high-concept roles, he has mastered the “ordinary man who is thrust into a hostile situation” routine. Despite being the leading man, he has little dialogue throughout the film and there are huge scene portions where he and his motivations are overlooked. But he is pleasant to watch and his descent into becoming a serial killer feels natural. You can definitely see that this is a man who seeks some kind of catharsis in the wake of a tragedy. However, what sells this is the great character contrast between Neeson and Tom Bateman. Bateman is running on ecstasy in this movie. Viking is downright psychopathic. To his son, to his estranged wife, to his underlings and to his enemies, he is scary in his humour and overall character. He is also not bound by conventional criminal honour, which in turn makes him a good contrast against the actions and approach of White Bull, who in turn undergoes development that brings the audience back around to Neeson. It’s a clever turnaround and even though you may struggle to sympathize with both men (one isn’t given sufficient emotional backing and the other is a dangerous drug king), their reasonings are clear and it ensures the film the well-rounded.
What is not great are the surrounding plot elements. Coxman’s wife leaves the movie early on and while I can appreciate that cliché sidetrack not getting any more screentime, it does make Coxman very distant and unsympathetic in the eyes of the audience. There is very little time between him talking about how he loves his life, and then firing a shotgun at his head. The relationship with his son is also not built up very well. Emotions wise, Cold Pursuit leaves the audience… low fevered. On top of this is the plot being distracted. Emmy Rossum plays a local detective that is trying to piece this whole dispute together and her investigation amounts to virtually nothing. Laura Dern is in the movie for five minutes, and the movie’s attempts to inspect America’s relationship with its indigenous residents is unnecessary. The film would have benefitted from a bit more comedy. Neeson has good timing and the fish-out-of-water narrative means that the confusion experienced by the drug cartels can be played up and written a bit more humorously. The musical score and the editing contribute to giving the film a lighter edge. We do get the dark elements, and there is plenty of blood to spill, but you’re left wanting more from all sides.
So I remain somewhat confused. Cold Pursuit is trying to tangent out of being a straight-up popcorn flick, and it succeeds to the point that you’re thinking and admiring it beyond the gunfights and the over-the-top antagonist. No disrespect to Bateman though. he is great in this film, as is Neeson. The story has a few interesting turns in it, and the artistic elements will not frustrate anyone who’s just looking to watch Neeson kill people. What holds the film back is a confusing tone and an overall lack of focus.
Last Updated: March 22, 2019