IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 119 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Nelson Coxman’s quiet life as a snowplow driver in the Colorado ski resort of Kehoe is disrupted when his son dies from a forced heroin overdose, and his wife Grace has a breakdown and leaves him. About to commit suicide, he learns that a drug cartel was responsible and goes on to kill three of its members. His brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman – who was once an enforcer for the cartel – informs him that the cartel’s leader Trevor “Viking” Calcote suspects that these deaths are the work of Native American drug lord White Bull, with whom Viking has a shaky truce….
Cold Pursuit is kind of a strange beast really, and strange often means good in my book, but not this time. It’s a remake of director Hans Peter Molland’s 2014 Norwegian film In Order Of Disppearance, and, while I haven’t seen that, this seems like an attempt to re-do the earlier film as something a bit closer to – though not by much – what one might expect from a Liam Neeson revenge flick. The result is something that is patchily entertaining but which overall neither excites not satisfies. It certainly doesn’t work as a Taken-style actioner, but nor does it work as the wordy, picaresque gangster film it also tries to be, superficially in the same ballpark as much of the work of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, but lacking their flair for dialogue and humour that seems to come naturally from the characters and the situations, leaving behind lots of quirkiness with little rhythm that’s usually not as funny as it thinks it is. I say “usually” because there are a few memorable moments where you may shake your head in disbelief and say “they did that?”, but there’s also a lot of stuff that just annoys and isn’t enough to really break the increasing tedium of a film where its star takes a back seat for much of the time and which seems to think that bodies constantly piling up, the deceased marked by brief screen mentions with appropriate religion or tribal designation, is really cool and hilarious and will do in place of any actual tension or interesting plot development.
So Neeson’s character is beloved by his community which has awarded him Citizen of the Year – and one can’t help but chuckle at this considering the ridiculous controversy over his brave and honest confession a short while ago that got all those members of the Twitter “holier than though” outrage mob – idiots who are too thick to even understand the point he was making and for whom past acts can never be forgiven – asking for his head. What scary times we live in – but moving on. His son Kyle is kidnapped by criminal enforcers Speedo and Limbo, and is thrown into a van where another victim, Dante, is also being held. The crooks inject a large dose of heroin into Kyle’s body before Dante frees himself and escapes. Speedo and Limbo bring Kyle’s body to a public setting and make it look like he just passed out. This is all pretty intense, but then we switch to drug lord Trevor “Viking” Calcote telling his son Ryan to fight back against the school bully and then fretting madly about the unhealthiness of Ryan’s packed lunch, a good example of the odd stuff that’s thrown into this film that’s intended to be funny but is more funny peculiar than funny ha ha, while Bateman is far too much of a clown in the role, unable to disguise his English accent and seeming to base his performance on what he thinks the Joker would be like if played by Jim Carrey. One cannot help but be moved by Neeson depicting grief yet again though, especially when he’s just about to blow his own head off until an injured Dante turns up to have information beaten out of him by Nelson – but then this has already been undercut by the mortuary identification scene several minutes before which is played for laughs, with the loud annoying noise of the bed being heightened dominating. Surely we ought to be feeling Nelson’s shock or sorrow at this moment so we have some understanding of the violence he’s going to wrought? But no, it’s supposed to make us laugh, and, coming at this place in the film, it’s rather crass and nasty – and by now the film’s tone is all over the place.
Then it’s Liam doing the expected for a short while, and these deaths are messy and uncomfortable, an attempt to depict the nasty reality in of brutal kills. Red is spattered over white snowbanks and whiter bridal dresses, and afterwards Nelson wraps the bodies in chicken wire and sinks them into the water so that fishes can chew away their decomposing flesh. However, the film then decides to piss off much of its audience and take several turns, seeming to go out of its way to annoy those supposed idiots who just want to see Neeson kick ass. As soon as the Native American gang and a hitman hired by Nelson are brought in, the revenge element is almost forgotten about for some time. These hoodlums are undoubtedly colourful with their silly names and personality quirks, but the pacing draws to a halt and after the tenth time a murder occurs – something often signified by curtains closing and a cut to the next scene – tedium begins to draw in, as well as a sense of distastefulness. Earlier on we were intended to react to the film’s violence in a strong way. Now it seems like we’re just intended to chuckle or shrug our shoulders. This casts a truly dishonest, unpleasant spell over the rest of the proceedings. I usually have no objection to films that laugh at death if they state their approach right away and continue along the same lines, but when you have a film that appears to ask us to take it seriously but then forgets about all that and instead decides to treat it as little more than a joke – thereby insulting many viewers – one really wonders at the integrity of the writer and director.
The main source of entertainment is often in the home life of some of these characters, such as Nelson’s brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman who lives in a meticulously ordered feng shiu house and has an oriental wife who seems to rule the roost and who hates Nelson. Then there’s the young hoodlum who follows his dad’s advice in having a neat way of welcoming any room service maid into his room [clue – his name’s Bone]. Even Nelson’s surname is made a joke of. Then there’s a lot of humour at the expense of the Native American gang who have a snow ball fight and are informed upon their visit to a hotel that they need a reservation [geddit?]. A paragliding henchmen exits frame and reappears much later with comedic timing. Is all this funny? I guess it’s a matter of taste but I found much it of rather desperate, lacking in real wit and handled in a very heavy handed manner that screams “look at us, aren’t we having fun guys”? A later kidnapping is nicely tweaked so that the kidnapper is incredibly nice to the kidnapped, and the final gunfight is well handled with Nelson virtually lost in the midst of it, a good example of the way the film likes to debunk expected notions of heroism from Neeson, but it’s not really enough to save such an uneven, lumpy, poorly paced picture.
Plot holes abound. For example, try to figure out why on earth Bone texts Sly his room number, and why White Bull’s gang seems to move at the speed of light seeing as they get there so fast. And so many performances fail to jell with others or seem to come from different films. Domenick Lombardozzi and William Forsythe are enjoyable to watch, but for much of the time one senses that they’re just having a bit of a laugh, while Laura Dern is barely in the thing, making you wonder why they gave Nelson a wife at all. At least Neeson does play his role with real conviction, whether he’s reading sleepy children excerpts from snowplow merchandise trade catalogues or smashing yet people’s faces in, and really convinces as somebody who could easily lose it and do the latter. And also excellent are Emmy Rossum and John Doman as Detectives Kin Dash and Gip who are investigating all these mysterious killings. Be it Kim wanting to arrest some teens smoking dope and Gip telling her to ease up, or Kim cruelly but amusingly using an ex-boyfriend’s lust for her to get some information, the two are funny and real [in a way that few others are in this film] and have a real chemistry together. Unfortunately a concluding scene featuring the two appears to be missing. And why isn’t Rossum the big star by now that she deserves to be? She does a great job here, slightly riffing on [so not enough to make it seem like an imitation] Fargo’s Marge Gunderson in this film.
Molland has a nice way of setting up shots, like an early speech by Nel shown by the camera tracking along the backs of people’s heads, but he struggles with the material [I assume that he didn’t with the original]. Any subversion of Neeson’s action star image is lost in the overall mess and the hints that we’re being asked to think about our differing reactions to death are underdone by the fact that Kyle, whose murder started everything off, is soon forgotten about which is really rather crass. In fact the way that an emotional aloofness takes over is rather dishonest if you consider many of the film’s earlier scenes and the film’s initial premise, while the supposed humour often seems to want to get properly black but frustratingly refuses to do so. There are disparate highlights that offer individual moments of joy, but Cold Pursuit is really a film that doesn’t know what it is and ends up being something of a pain in the ass.