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Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit

With Neeson’s recent confessions on the Cold Pursuit promotional tour, it’s likely his latest foray in the genre may wind up being his last.

Cold Pursuit

2.5 / 5

In recent years, the expectations for a Liam Neeson vehicle have remained static, catering to the same specific intersection between an audience’s lust for violence and their desire for the purveyor of that violence to be universally justified in his actions. The typical Neeson picture works because of how well he fits the paradigm of a vengeful patriarch who expresses an amount of grief to match the ensuing carnage. But with his recent confessions on the Cold Pursuit promotional tour, it’s likely his latest foray in the genre may wind up being his last.

If Cold Pursuit were more like the last decade of Neeson actioners, it would have an even more difficult time reckoning with its star admitting to, in his youth, walking the streets of Ireland with a weapon, hoping to kill a random black man as retaliation for a loved one being raped. Though not as MAGA-y as Jennifer Garner’s Peppermint from last year, the Neeson flicks that inspired it sure feature an above average helping of the actor mercilessly killing non-whites. But this isn’t the average Neeson picture. It’s much weirder.

Cold Pursuit is a remake of the Stellan Skarsgård movie In Order of Disappearance, from director Hans Petter Moland. Alongside writer Frank Baldwin, Moland moves his Norwegian black comedy to a ski town in the Rocky Mountains, swapping Stellan for the similarly stoic Neeson as Nels Coxman, a snow plow driver who, after being awarded Citizen of the Year by his town, discovers his son has died of a heroin overdose. This being a Neeson movie, his son was obviously murdered, so he’s got to mow down a bunch of ancillary characters until he can kill whoever is ultimately responsible.

But what should be a 90 minute, point A to point B thriller ends up taking quite a few detours, diverting from Neeson’s path of destruction to check in on a number of supporting characters, each with their own weird little arcs and entirely too much background color. The archvillain, a nutty drug dealer played by Murder On the Orient Express’s Tom Bateman (aka, the guy who blurted out “holy shit” next to Neeson when he made his publicity tour confession), comes off as strangely likable and almost tragic at times. The overall tone, less pulp and more absurd, is closer to Wes Anderson than it is Luc Besson, feeling like a more twee mixture of the Coen Brothers and off-brand Tarantino lookalikes.

It’s charming to watch a film where even the kingpin’s random henchmen feel like interesting characters worth spending time with, but in a movie marketed as a Neeson revenge pic, it seems like an odd decision to sideline much of the film’s narrative momentum in pursuit of endlessly riffing on largely unimportant background fixtures. The action itself is solid, if unspectacular, but the only thing in the movie that’s really likable is the general sense that director Moland’s sense of humor is such a departure from what audiences will expect. The scene where Coxman and his wife (a painfully underutilized Laura Dern) have to identify their son’s body is far quirkier and funnier than it really ought to be, but it is a highlight nonetheless.

The other major departure is how regular Neeson’s Coxman is. He doesn’t have a particular set of skills, as his Taken character does, nor is he an everyman under pressure in the Hitchcockian vein of his Jaume Collet-Serra collaborations. He’s just an angry guy who wasn’t a particularly present father. Rather than wrestle with his loss or examine how well he did or didn’t know his son, he just walks out into the night to bludgeon people to death in search of catharsis. On second thought, maybe this isn’t that far removed from Neeson’s comments.

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