When you think about it, perhaps only Liam Neeson – among today’s crop of actors who are of suitable age for the role – could successfully carry off the part of a vengeance-minded snowplough driver in this darkly comic tale.
This is not meant to typecast Neeson in any way (heck, his last umpteen movie roles have done enough on that score), but to compliment Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Morland’s work.
Cold Pursuit is a remake of Morland’s 2014 Kraftidioten, made in his homeland and starring Stellan Skarsgard. (The English title for international release was In Order of Disappearance, though the original actually Google-translates to “power idiot”. Yep.)
For the Hollywood remake, Neeson is a fitting choice mainly because of the way Morland wickedly upends the cliches of the revenge flick and frequently pulls the rug from under the clodhoppers of our expectations.
Who better than seasoned on-screen revenge-taker Neeson, after all, to show just the right amount of bemusement when one of his intended victims turns out to be merely 99 and 44/100% dead? Or to come home after murdering a criminal with the weary yet casual air of someone who has just had a long day at work? Or knowing how to temper the contemptible act of kidnapping a child with a surprising degree of tenderness and care?
Initially, the film seems to be just about Neeson’s character Nels Coxman, whose quiet life driving a snowplough for a resort town in the Rocky Mountains is shattered when his son dies of a drug overdose.
Realising there is more to it than everyone – including his wife Grace (Laura Dern) – seems to have accepted, he sets out to find the truth … after briefly contemplating suicide, in a scene which gives the viewer an audible hint that this journey is not going the way you might imagine.
The path he takes intersects with numerous others – primarily a vicious, psychotic drug dealer named Viking (Tom Bateman, a scenery-chewing standout) and his motley crew of lowlifes.
Sometimes, Cold Pursuit loses sight of its goal, and takes perhaps a few detours too many to admire the snowed-under scenery or expand on an expendable character with some insight into his or her (usually twisted) world-view.
This takes the focus off Nels and his plans quite frequently, and sometimes when the, uh, cold pursuit is rejoined, Frank Baldwin’s adapted screenplay appears to have taken an unexplained leap.
The good thing is that the movie doesn’t dwell too long on these side trips, most of which are actually kind of amusing – even when they’re racially charged, politically incorrect or, what’s the term these days, gender-presumptive.
After a while, too, the viewer will get clued in on the title cards that accompany each character’s on- or off-screen demise and giggle hysterically when one appears right when we expected it.
So, as Cold Pursuit grinds along its winding path, much like Nels’s snowplough (which actually becomes a key implement in a couple of action scenes and also the film’s grisly punchline), we kind of feel like being on a guided tour with a zany, well-informed guide who knows how to grab our attention.
Just be prepared for this tour bus to go to places you didn’t quite expect.
Director: Hans Petter Morland
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, Tom Bateman, William Forsythe, Tom Jackson, John Doman