There’s a high body count in Cold Pursuit. Then again, there always is in Liam Neeson movies post Taken. It’s been quite the career pivot for an actor in his late 60s. Whether it’s rescuing his daughter in Europe, preventing the hijacking of a plane or the derailment of a train, he’s your guy. Don’t travel with this man.
But Cold Pursuit attempts to offer something different. There’s been a level of humor lacking in Neeson’s action films and his newest vehicle attempts to use brevity under horrific circumstances in a Fargo sort of way. Key word being “attempts.”
Neeson plays Nels Coxman (One of many memorable names in this movie), an ordinary man whose job is to plow a certain stretch of snowy road in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. He has a wife and son and the town names him “Citizen of the year.” But he gives an eloquent movie speech talking about the road not taken and how he picked a good road. A bit on the nose, but kind of eloquent.
But his normal life is upended when his son dies of a drug overdose. “Kyle wasn’t a druggy,” he says to the coroner. This sets in motion a revenge plot to find his son’s killer. In doing so, he creates a war between two rival drug gangs.
Cold Pursuit’s major flaw is its screenplay. Where writers such as the Coen Brothers, the McDonagh Brothers or Quentin Tarantino excel at writing characters and dialogue within the world of gangsters and murderers, first-time screenwriter Frank Baldwin can’t juggle multiple storylines with enough compelling material.
Neeson is the star, but the film constantly pushes him aside to showcase the rival gangs and their daily struggle with running an illegal operation. I mean how can you manage a drug trafficking business while also monitoring your young son’s allergies and food intake?
There’s a couple of clever scenes, like the boy having a conversation about fantasy football with one of his bodyguards or one henchman telling another about his success rate in sleeping with hotel maids, but there’s not enough to keep the pace moving.
You can see Baldwin trying to tell a story about fathers and sons, but he can’t balance it all. So instead of Cold Pursuit being a pulpy revenge film, it’s just a second-rate black comedy.
The film has a weird relationship with death in general. Director Hans Petter Moland acknowledges every death on screen, which is something you don’t often see. But he does it for laughs. It goes from being clever to tedious real quick.
The root of the story and the motivating factor for Coxman should be the relationship he has with his son. But they share maybe one scene together. Coxman’s killing spree then feels more like pent-up rage from living an ordinary life rather than justice for his son. Why did the son have to die in the first place? That’s still confusing.
Laura Dern plays the wife and before completely disappearing from the movie; never to be seen again, she quite literally pokes holes in the screenplay by calling out Coxman for not really knowing his son. Neither do we.
There isn’t a single memorable female character to be found. Emmy Rossum plays an idealistic young cop looking to make a difference, but she’s constantly in the dark about what’s really going on. And she has to use sex as a tool to further her investigation. Original.
Cold Pursuit tries so hard to be different and yet it ends up being a soulless comedy thriller with rough draft dialogue and a forgettable performance from Neeson. Remember those copycat Tarantino movies from the mid-’90s trying to be kitschy and macabre? This feels like one of those. Only 25 years later.