Film Review: Cold Pursuit (USA, 2019) is peak Neeson Season material

It’s hard to believe but at this present time, whenever you ask young people who Liam Neeson is, they often tend to quote his action films and then not know or forget about his critically acclaimed films like Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, Rob Roy and others. But ever since the 2008 action film Taken, Neeson went from thespian actor to all-out action hero in a ongoing time period that should be known as Neeson Season (named after this fantastic music video). Now in the early going of 2019, we have the revenge comedy thriller Cold Pursuit.

The film itself is a remake of an acclaimed Norwegian film, 2014’s In Order of Disappearance. It must be said that his reviewer has not seen the original film, but the remake does make an interesting case of how directors remake their own films in the English language. There hasn’t been many positive cases out there in which it can actually work, although there have been talented filmmakers that have tried with mixed results like Michael Haneke with Funny Games, George Sluizer with The Vanishing, Takashi Shimizu with The Grudge, Ole Bornedal with Nightwatch, The Pang Brothers with Bangkok Dangerous and so on.

However, with the original director Hans Petter Moland on board, a talented cast lead by Neeson and an intriguing American point-of-view that gives a necessary change to the proceedings of the humour at play, will Cold Pursuit be a sterling example of a remake that compliments the original as well as an example of a director rightfully remaking his own work?

Liam Neeson stars as Nels Coxman (no, really), a snowplow driver (seriously, stay with me here) whose life comes into complete disarray from winning the award for Citizen of the Year to having his beloved son being murdered. As with any Neeson thriller, this injustice cannot stand and Coxman goes out for revenge with his snowplow and his sawed-off sniper rifle, cocked and loaded.

But unlike prior Neeson thrillers, Coxman doesn’t come with a particular set of skill equipped for his revenge quest and it is due to his sloppiness, he inadvertently sets off a series of unfortunate events, leading to a turf war between Viking (Tom Bateman), the man who may or may not be responsible for the untimely death of Coxman’s son and White Bull (Tom Jackson) a rival boss of Native American descent. And thus, a deadly cycle of revenge ensues that reverberates and plows everybody remotely involved.

Does Cold Pursuit succeed in being a remake that succeeds in being a good film due to having the same director remaking the original story in the English language? Director Hans Petter Moland manages to plow through the competition by changing the perspective of the original that accommodates the English language as well as the American setting, making the culture clashes significant to the plot and the storytelling.

And it is because of the culture clashes in the story, it brings in more diverse casting in terms of the Native American cast that adds some verisimilitude as well as lend more punch to the humour as both cultures make fun of one another. Jokes about cultural appropriation of resources, overtaken land and traditions in Native America are merchandised and sold (as Made in China souvenirs) hit home and the materialism of Caucasian culture are mercilessly parodied.

In the original film, the filmmaking aesthetic of revolved around Nordic Noir, a genre that is basically crime fiction but without the artifice of metaphors and massive dollops of nihilism and bleakness. And some Western critics noted in their reviews that the original film suffered from massive tonal shifts due to shifting from depressing crime drama to dark comedy. In the case of Cold Pursuit, director Moland tones down the bleakness and amps up the comedy, making the balance far more feasible.

The body count is vast, but the execution (pun intended) of the violence ranges from gruesome to abrupt to even taking place off-screen; and they all hit their mark in both terms of thrills and comedy. One scene involving strangulation goes from grisly to amusing due to how elongated (again, pun intended) the scene gets. Another scene, which involves nudity, paper money and flirtation succeeds in hilarity thanks to a killer punchline. The cat-and-mouse games and escalating violence that bounces back and forth due to revenge is given thematic punch, thanks to the relationships between the characters, giving credence as to how the cycle of violence reverberates through the family trees (as well as the people around them) and how ridiculous the conceit of revenge really is.

It certainly helps that the film has the star power of Liam Neeson, star of many revenge-glorifying films. His presence alone in such a sadistic comedy is amusing enough, but due to his sincere, straight-faced acting and his fittingly subversive character (which is a man who is driven by revenge but has very little skill in carrying out his quest the way he intends to), his performance adds to the humour, without any winking nor any attempt in being tongue-in-cheek.

Alongside Neeson, the vast array of colourful characters on display are all gamely played by the talented supporting cast, who deliver their lines of sharp, acerbic dialogue (courtesy of debut scriptwriter, Frank Baldwin) with aplomb. The two crime bosses are especially well-cast, which include Tom Bateman, who is enjoyably brash as Viking, as he dons a comically doltish American accent that compliments his character perfectly; and Tom Jackson brings gruff and deadpan presence that contrasts with the increasingly comedic grisly violence and surroundings.

Others include Domenick Lombardozzi, bringing a grounded charm as Mustang, the bodyguard of Viking who may be hiding a secret; Emmy Rossum is both chippy and vigilant as Kim, the young detective trying to solve the increasing murders; Julia Jones is convincingly forceful and headstrong as Aya, the ex-wife of Viking, who she hilariously puts in his place and lastly the underappreciated William Forsythe, whose presence balances both charisma and his imposing demeanor perfectly. Surprisingly, the only person who ends up adding very little to the film is Laura Dern, who has incredibly little to do, it’s a wonder why she was cast in the first place.

Speaking of the flaws of the film, Neeson does disappear for spaces of time during the second act due to the multiple characters and some scenes could be cut out for a tighter running time.

Overall, Cold Pursuit is a sadistically funny dark comedy thriller that marks the perfect change of pace for Neeson and his action reconnaissance, thanks to its macabre sense of humour, its committed ensemble cast and its droll portrayal of the cycle of revenge and its frankly ridiculous reverberations to everyone that comes across it.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Cold Pursuit is in cinemas today.