Cold Pursuit is a real odd duck of a movie, and thank goodness for that. We've seen Liam Neeson make revenge thrillers before, but not like this one. It's as much a dark comedy as an action picture. A remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller In Order of Disappearance, it finds the actor more than willing to take the kind of role he's played many times before and put a different spin on it. That makes the film a lot of fun to watch.
At first glance, everything seems like a standard Liam Neeson action movie. He plays Nels Coxman, a snow plow driver in the Rocky Mountains. When his son Kyle is killed by drug dealers, Coxman sets out to make them pay. We've seen this sort of thing before, right?
Not quite. It's the manner in which the story is told that makes Cold Pursuit different. There's a quirky sense of humor running through the plot. The chief bad guy, for instance, is Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman), a fastidious lowlife who is almost as irritated by incorrect grammar as he is by Coxman killing some of his men. Emmy Rossum and The Wire's John Doman, meanwhile, play small-town cops who wittily bicker as they skirt the edges of the drug activity taking place right under their noses. The movie also features a few deaths that offer morbid laughs because of how suddenly or unexpectedly they occur.
In a deeply amusing technique, the names of characters who die appear onscreen as they perish. That's right, Cold Pursuit keeps a running tally of its own body count. Although it elicits increasingly big chuckles, this is more than a gimmick. Taken cumulatively, the memorials serve to emphasize how many people die in revenge flicks of this type. Usually people are mowed down and then forgotten. Director Hans Petter Moland, remaking his own movie, gives each of them a brief moment of remembrance, whether they were innocents caught up in the situation or villains who had it coming.
Neeson doesn't play the super-intense character he did in the Taken series. Coxman can certainly get violent, yet as the story progresses, he does less and less killing. The character accidentally ignites a war between Viking's gang and a group of Native American dealers; they do a fine job of slaughtering each other. In a nifty about-face, Neeson gets to spend parts of the film showing Coxman's bemusement at how the wheels of violence turn on their own once he initiates the first couple spins.
Cold Pursuit additionally contains a bunch of enjoyable twists and turns, as intriguing new supporting characters are introduced and unanticipated connections between them are revealed. The plot definitely keeps you hanging on each development.
If there's an issue here – and there is – it's that the storytelling approach, while engaging, doesn't exactly provide a lot of emotion. In the beginning, it seems as though Cold Pursuit is going to explore the ramifications of Kyle's death on Coxman's marriage, but his wife Grace (Laura Dern) is shuffled off after only about five minutes of screen time. Similarly, a subplot involving Coxman's relationship with Viking's young son is scarcely explored, so an attempt to wring a meaningful payoff from it doesn't really work.
Even if it lacks emotional value, Cold Pursuit is beautifully photographed, well-acted, and full of off-kilter laughs, including the final shot, which caused the audience I saw the movie with to lose their collective minds (in a good way). Overall, it's a pleasing deviation from the one-note revenge thrillers we've seen time and time again.
out of four
Cold Pursuit is rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.