Cold Pursuit (2019) Movie Review

Cold Pursuit is a 2019 action thriller film directed by Hans Petter Moland (in his Hollywood debut) from a screenplay by Frank Baldwin. The film stars Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, and Laura Dern. It is an official remake of the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten), also directed by Moland, and follows a vengeful snowplow driver who starts killing the members of a drug cartel following the murder of his son.

The film was released in the United States on February 8, 2019, by Summit Entertainment. It was a moderate box office success grossing over $76 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the action sequences and the dark humor.

Plot

After being awarded “Citizen of the Year” by the fictional ski resort of Kehoe, Colorado, snowplow driver Nels Coxman’s quiet life is disrupted when his son dies from a forced heroin overdose. Nels’ wife Grace leaves her husband in grief. He is about to commit suicide when he learns that his son was murdered by a Denver drug cartel. He decides to seek vigilante justice, makes a sawed-off rifle, and kills three members of the cartel, dumping their bodies in a nearby river.

The cartel’s leader, drug lord Trevor “Viking” Calcote, first suspects that these deaths are the work of his rival White Bull, a Ute with whom he has so far avoided conflict. Viking has one of Bull’s gangsters murdered, not knowing it is Bull’s only son. This drives Bull to seek revenge (“a son for a son”), and he orders his men to kidnap Viking’s young son.

Nels seeks advice from his brother Brock, once a mob enforcer known as “Wingman,” and learns about Viking. Brock tells Nels that killing Viking requires a hired assassin, and he recommends a transplanted African American hitman known as “The Eskimo.” The Eskimo agrees to kill Viking for $90,000, but decides he can get another $90,000 from Viking by informing him that “Coxman” has hired him for the hit. Viking doesn’t appreciate the Eskimo’s “lack of professional ethics” and kills him. He thinks the Eskimo meant Brock Coxman, and he takes Brock for his “last ride.” Since Brock is dying of cancer, he claims responsibility for the hits to protect his brother.

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Viking tries in vain to stop the gang war by using one of his own men as a scapegoat and sending White Bull the man’s head. This is insufficient to placate Bull, who kills the messenger. Meanwhile, Nels kidnaps Viking’s son from his prep school before Bull’s men can, in order to draw Viking into an ambush. Nels treats the boy well and protects him from the violence to come.

Nels’ identity is revealed to Viking by the prep school’s janitor. Though promised $10,000 for the tip, he too is killed after his disclosure.

Both gangs arrive at Nels’ workplace, and most of them are killed in the ensuing shootout. Viking, attempting to drive away, is trapped when Nels impales a shorn tree into his car, and he is shot in the chest by White Bull. He dies when found by Kehoe police detectives Kimberly Dash and Gip. As Nels leaves the property in his snowplow to continue his work, White Bull jumps into the cab, and the two men drive away together. Bull’s last remaining enforcer, who had set off on a paraglide flight from the ski resort hotel where the gang stayed the night before, accidentally lands directly in the snowplow’s path and is killed.

My Personal Thoughts

“Cold Pursuit” is the 2019 version of a recently minted tradition, the late winter Liam Neeson revenge flick. It’s one of the strangest, least predictable movies he’s made in years, which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s consistently good. Based on the Norwegian movie “In Order of Disappearance,” and directed by the same filmmaker, Hans Petter Moland, it’s a fragmented, meandering tale in which Neeson’s character, a Kehoe, Colorado snowplow driver named Nels Coxman, gets a taste of vengeance and becomes a glutton. At times it plays less like a self-contained movie than a couple of episodes of a TV series that don’t quite add up the way you wanted them to. It’s a shame that it isn’t better. At its best, it plays like a wry critique of this unexpectedly lucrative period of Neeson’s career, and a borderline-spoof of the genre as a whole.

“Cold Pursuit” kicks off with Nels accepting an award as Kehoe Citizen of the Year, then jumps ahead to the murder of his only son Kyle (Michael Richardson, Neeson’s real-life son with the late Natasha Richardson), an airport baggage handler kidnapped and killed by members of a local drug cartel over a mishandled cocaine shipment. The killers made Kyle’s death look like a heroin overdose even though the young man didn’t do drugs, a touch that adds insult to injury. Nels swiftly dispatches the men directly responsible for his boy’s murder, wraps their corpses in chicken wire, and dumps them off a waterfall so that they’ll settle on the bottom of the Colorado River and be stripped clean by fish, an evidence-disposal technique that he later says that he learned by reading crime fiction. Unsatisfied by the deaths that he metes out early on, Nels resolves to work his way up the underworld’s ladder until he slays the boss of bosses, Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman).  

Complications ensue, and not necessarily the ones you’d expect from having watched other Liam Neeson revenge movies. Moland and his American screenwriter, Frank Baldwin, play around with Western movie motifs, photographing the snow-packed mountains, valleys and roads like panoramas in a John Ford cavalry picture, and envisioning a Cowboys-and-Indians-type rivalry between the white-run drug cartel that’s responsible for Kyle’s murder and a Southern Ute Indian gang that mistakenly gets blamed for Nels’ retaliatory spree. There’s also commentary on how outlaws lust after cliched signifiers of respectability. This is conveyed mostly through Viking, a divorced yuppie clotheshorse and preening psychopath who treats his own young son, Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), like a pet, or some kind of experiment in conditioning, micromanaging his diet and recommending “Lord of the Flies” as a self-help manual.

Like its source, this American remake is comparatively light on graphic violence (the beatings tend to be uglier than the shootings), and it has the confidence to handle quite a bit of that business offscreen, staging significant killings behind drawn curtains, or in the cut separating one scene from the next. The film also detours from the main story to spend quality time with Viking’s drug gang, his henchmen (including Domenick Lombardozzi as the aforementioned fantasy football sentimentalist, who refers to Mozart as “Moe-zart”); Nels’ ex-criminal brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman (William Forsyth), who got his nickname from “Top Gun”; a couple of Kehoe cops (Emily Rossum and John Doman) trying to make sense of the mayhem, and assorted mates and exes. Laura Dern has a few scenes as Nels’ grieving wife Grace, who leaves Nels almost instantly, perhaps sensing that her presence would be wasted in a movie filled with sad, violent, self-involved men. 

“Cold Pursuit” is at least four-fifths a dark comedy, filled with eccentric, often introverted and sad American archetypes. Most would be mesmerizing and/or hilarious if they had been fully fleshed out as characters, and if the film surrounding them were more elegantly structured and paced. The project suffers from a certain flatness in the characterizations, as well as from an inability to introduce new faces, or arrange meetings between established characters, when the plot needs them, as opposed to much later, when the audience is ready for the story to end and tends to view major new developments as narrative speed bumps. 

But even at its most navel-gazing and disorganized, “Cold Pursuit” still showcases elements you haven’t seen before, like the tight-lipped hero asking how many words he’s required to speak at an awards dinner, the henchman who keeps losing at fantasy football because he’s too loyal to his favorite childhood teams and players, and the Ute crime boss who’s saddened by the appropriation of his people’s clothes and jewelry by white designers—more so when he turns over a label and sees “Made in China.”

The film might have been doomed to historical footnote status regardless, because it opened mere days after its star made one of the weirdest, most clueless unforced errors in the history of movie promotion. In an interview, Neeson tried to connect this film, and the futility of revenge in general, to an anecdote drawn from his twenties, when he responded to a white female friend’s rape by a black assailant by wandering town around with a crowbar, hoping to get in a fight with another “black bastard” and kill him. Although Neeson didn’t kill anyone back then, or even fight them, he flunked the present-day personal disclosure-as-advertising test by failing to realize that the racism part of his story—which he did not apologize for, or even note and explain—was as disturbing as the revenge part, which he condemned on the spot.

I will rate this movie 6/10.

Directed byHans Petter Moland
Produced by Finn Gjerdrum Stein B. Kvae Michael Shamberg Ameet Shukla
Written byFrank Baldwin
Based onIn Order of Disappearance
by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Starring Liam Neeson Tom Bateman Tom Jackson Emmy Rossum Domenick Lombardozzi Julia Jones John Doman Laura Dern
Music byGeorge Fenton
CinematographyPhilip Øgaard
Edited byNicolaj Monberg
Production
companies
StudioCanal Summit Entertainment
Distributed bySummit Entertainment
Release date February 8, 2019 (United States)
Running time118 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Budget$60 million
Box office$76.3 million
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