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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Cold Pursuit

It's expected by now that the early winter months would bring us a Liam Neeson revenge thriller, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Cold Pursuit is business as usual.  Adapting from his own 2014 Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance, director Hans Petter Moland has given us a film that is a lot more humorous and fun than you might be expecting.  This is a tongue-in-cheek thriller that never really takes itself all that seriously, and it's probably better for it.

This time around, Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a straight-laced and silent husband and family man who runs a snow plow business in the ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado.  Nels is a stoic man, loved by his wife (Laura Dern, given little to do) and teenage son (Neeson's real life son, Miche├íl Richardson).  He's also loved by his town, as he's just been awarded Citizen of the Year.  While Nels is accepting the award, tragedy strikes elsewhere, as his son is discovered by the police dead of a heroin overdose.  This not only creates a rift between Nels and his wife that possibly can never be healed (she blames him for not knowing his own son), it turns him suicidal.  That depression turns to rage, however, when he finds out that his son's death was staged to cover up the murderous actions of a Denver-based drug syndicate. 

Now Nels wants revenge against his son's killers, and he starts tracking down and bumping off the members of the syndicate one-by-one.  He brutally beats them, then wraps their body in chicken wire, and throws them down the falls so that the fish will eat their bodies, and their corpses will not float to the surface. (A trick he learned from reading crime novels.) This gets the attention of the syndicate's leader, the highly strung drug lord who goes by the name "Viking" (Tom Bateman), who is a murdering S.O.B., but not so evil that he won't let his own young kid (Nicholas Holmes) eat junk food.  When some of his goons try to give his son a cookie, he chews them out, and another thug tries to give the kid sugar cereal when the boss isn't looking.  He's just trying to raise a healthy kid, while at the same time trying to uncover who's bumping off some of his low level hoods.  He also has an ex-wife to deal with, who is trying to get him more involved in their kid's school by signing him up for different events.

Cold Pursuit is clearly a movie having a lot of fun with itself, and it's just as much fun to watch.  This is a fast-paced film that doesn't exactly break any new ground, nor does it feature any great performances.  But, it does know how to give the audience a good time.  It mixes strong action with equally strong offbeat humor.  These are not the sort of people you expect to see at the center of an action thriller, and the movie revels in that fact.  Even Nels is not your standard action role from Neeson, as he does not possess a very particular set of skills.  He's new to this revenge game, and the first time he tries to murder someone, it takes him a few tries before the thug is finally dead.  There are even moments when Neeson almost seems to be poking fun at the kinds of characters he usually plays in these kind of movies.  The humor is fairly subtle, however, and sometimes laugh out loud funny. 

Neeson is not the only one having fun here.  There are some strong and often funny supporting roles on display, especially the always-welcome William Forsythe, who is wonderful in his small role as Nels' black sheep brother who has past connections to the criminal underworld, and helps Nels find his way in his quest for revenge.  He gets at least one big laugh in almost every scene he's in.  I also liked the two local cops played by Emmy Rossum and John Doman.  They have a wonderful deadpan back and forth whenever they're on camera, and the screenplay does a great job of playing off her relative inexperience, and his general "seen it all" attitude.  Less you think the movie is all fun, the action and scenes of violence are appropriately brutal and well-shot.  Moland almost seems to be going for a Tarantino vibe, mixing strong violence with clever humor.  And while the movie never quite reaches the top tier of that level, it's still something to be admired.

Cold Pursuit does what it needs to succeed, but it also goes a little bit further by adding a strong sense of dark humor.  People will come to see Liam Neeson playing a regular guy who is very good at taking justice into his own hands, and they definitely get that.  But they will get a movie that is a little bit more knowing and wittier than you might expect.   When it comes to escapism entertainment like this, there's little else you could ask for.

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