Liam Neeson continues his late career reinvention as an action movie star with Cold Pursuit, though the Oscar-winner claims this is his last action film. Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland remakes his own 2014 action-thriller, In Order of Disappearance, with Neeson taking over for Stellan Skarsgård as a mourning father out for revenge against the drug ring that killed his son. Changing very little of his initial take on the material, Hans Petter Moland once again delivers a solid revenge thriller that is brutally violent with a deviously bleak sense of humor running throughout.
In a snowbound Colorado town of Kehoe, Nels Coxman (Neeson) tends to the roads in his massive snowplow. He lives with his wife Grace (Laura Dern) and sometimes goes on little hunting excursions with their son Kyle (Micheál Richardson). Nels is set to be honored by the people of Kehoe with their Citizen of the Year award for his dutiful work keeping the snowy roads clear. As Nels, a man of few words, gives his acceptance speech, Kyle is kidnapped by goons and injected with a lethal does of heroin. In only a matter of minutes, Cold Pursuit has taken us into a world and shattered it so it can be remade through violence before our very eyes.
A former co-worker of Kyle gives Nels a bit of information about the men who killed his son and the cocaine smuggling ring they were running out of Kehoe’s airport. This leads Nels on a path of vengeance, a path that will lead to the doorstep of Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman), a ruthless drug kingpin with an army of dedicated underlings. While Nels continues his revenge rampage, Viking’s gang is unsure of just who is behind the spate of attacks and inadvertently start a turf war with their chief competitors in the Native American gang led by White Bull (Tom Jackson). The motivations may be simple, but there’s never a simple path to vengeance. Trying to make sense of the escalating violence in the quaint little ski town are the local law enforcement of Gip (John Dorman), a veteran who doesn’t want to incite any trouble, and Kim (Emmy Rossum), a younger cop eager to uncover the roots of the insidious gang violence plaguing her town.
Whether you’re watching Moland’s 2014 film or his 2019 update, there’s one thing that stands out about each film – violent death begets more violent death. Like a gaping wound left untreated, the blood just spreads, staining everything in horrific red in its vicinity. Be it titled In Order of Disappearance or Cold Pursuit, to find yourself rooting for the protagonist on his quest for vengeance is to root for the expansion of emotional pain to those on the periphery of the horrors. This isn’t some kind of generic shoot-‘em-up actioner that’s all tidy, bloodless violence without any consequences for the characters pulling the trigger. Here every action brings an equal reaction, and considering the brutality at the heart of the story it never works out too well for anyone.
The film’s relationship to violence is what makes it such an effective work. Never does Cold Pursuit feel like it’s trying to justify the actions of its characters. These characters have to contend with the power of grief, as people see those they love most in the world taken from them in senseless violence. And yet it doesn’t always play out that grief is just a motivating factor towards perpetuating violence. Grief takes many different forms, perhaps most tragically in the way that Nels and Grace’s marriage seems to have died with their son. Maybe if he wasn’t consumed with grief and hungry for retribution, Nels might’ve stopped and asked himself if there was anything he could’ve done to save his marriage. He doesn’t because he’s consumed by the hunger for violence.
For the most part, Hans Petter Moland stays faithful to his own work. Anyone who has seen In Order of Disappearance will know exactly how Cold Pursuit will play out. That’s not a bad thing, as the reworked American take on the film works because it stays true to a solid story and injects a real wicked sense of humor in the affair. The macabre jokes unleashed in the film might throw some viewers for a loop, as they can often been absurd moments that drag on without a word being uttered. Despite the moral examination of violence and revenge at the heart of Cold Pursuit, I walk away more astounded at just how twistedly funny this movie is at times. There’s never a dull moment. If you’re not getting wrapped up in the violence on display there’s always a moment of humor or tragedy right around the corner.
Another brazenly over-the-top aspect of Cold Pursuit is the way that Trevor “Viking” Calcote has been warped for this American version. Trevor is engaged in a custody battle with his ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones), and he tries to exert all sorts of control over his son including his diet for various days of the week. These little characteristics, which take up a decent portion of the film, give the character a level of depth beyond simple mustache-twirling proclamations of evil intent. Here is a villain who wants to think of himself as a criminal mastermind but is incapable of controlling his wild impulses which often lead to a whole new set of complications.
Cold Pursuit may very well be the high-water mark of Liam Neeson’s career as an action star. It’s a smart action flick for adults, a film willing to provide the basest thrills but willing to step back and let the audience contemplate whether or not it’s worth it. There’s a consistency to Cold Pursuit‘s excellence that has been elusive in these Liam Neeson action films, be it the complete lack of visual coherence to the Taken movies or the wobbly conclusions of his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra. Cold Pursuit starts off strong and never lets up over its intensely entertaining two hours. A lot of credit needs to go to director Hans Petter Moland for staying true to his original film while adding new wrinkles to this interpretation.
Director Hans Petter Moland remakes his own 2014 thriller In Order of Disappearance with Liam Neeson in the lead for Cold Pursuit, a captivating revenge tale punctuated by an absurdly macabre sense of humor that keeps the film consistently entertaining.