Movie review: Cold Pursuit

Liam Neeson seeks revenge again in a remake of a Norwegian crime thrillers

Cold Pursuit (Mrazivá pomsta)
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
With Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, Laura Dern

Liam Neeson is back in revenge mode, this time with a snowy setting. The film tries to break to mold of previous thrillers starring an angry Neeson, who has become the screen equivalent of the left hand of God, by adding a lot of subtle and dry gallows humor.

Director Hans Petter Moland filmed the same story in 2014 as the Norwegian thriller In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten), starring the reliable Stellan Skarsgård.

The English remake transposes the action to the ski resort town of Kehoe. Colorado. The highly respected local snow plow driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a man of few words, living a good life with his wife, Grace (Laura Dern) and son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson).

That gets upended when Kyle turns up dead. The police dismiss it as an overdose and refuse to investigate. Nels, though, won’t accept the idea that his son was a secret junkie.
Neeson has seen his share of kidnappings and crimes. Casting him again as the vengeful father was not very creative, but he does get to do a bit of a riff on the role. He quietly sets off to track down the people responsible. Black title cards on screen help the audience keep track of the results.

The dark Nordic humor is perhaps a bit more subtle than American audiences are used to. Nels is quite economical with words, so he doesn’t drop those clever one liners or double entendres that audiences are used to.

There are rival criminal groups, one white and the other Native American, that pick up some of the comic banter.

The script by Frank Baldwin, also makes a few nods to film like the Coen brothers 1996 comedy Fargo, with a clever policewoman, Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum), trying to follow the clues. She adds a bright female presence to an otherwise all-male affair. He character shows some intelligence and she gets the better part of most situations and is a step ahead of the male police.

The other main female roles are all unhappy housewives. Laura Dern has a disappointingly small role as the grieving mother. One of the white mobsters has a divorced Native American wife, Aya (Julia Jones), and her role is mostly complaining about the child care arrangements. Another wife is a stereotype of the nagging Asian housewife.

Neeson, as an actor, doesn’t push his envelope. He hits all the right marks perfectly, but takes no chances. The more interesting work comes from minor players, like William Forsythe as Nels’ estranged brother, Wingman.

Of the two rival criminal gangs, the Native American one offers some fresh takes on characters. The white gang has dialogue that feels like leftover scenes from a Quentin Tarantino film.

The overall idea of the film, that collectively the mounting death count is by itself something funny, doesn’t work as well as it was supposed to. The sort of grim Nordic humor doesn’t automatically translate into an American setting.

With Liam Neeson at the head of the cast, the audience likely expects dramatic fireworks, and the slow burn that Cold Pursuit delivers in the end is a bit of a letdown. What works well in lean, low-budget European thriller seems a bit thin when it is pumped up to Hollywood standards.

If the audience sets aside some of its expectations of what a Liam Neeson revenge film should be, though, Cold Pursuit does deliver a different outlook on some well-trod ground.

The humor might not work all the time, but the plot is straightforward enough to follow, the action moves quickly without too many detours and the supporting roles are well-played.

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