With Neeson’s recent confessions on the Cold Pursuit promotional tour, itâs likely his latest foray in the genre may wind up being his last.
In recent years, the expectations for a Liam Neeson vehicle have remained static, catering to the same specific intersection between an audienceâs 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, itâs 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 Garnerâs 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 isnât the average Neeson picture. Itâs much weirder.
Cold Pursuit is a remake of the Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd 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 heâs 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 Neesonâs 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 Expressâs Tom Bateman (aka, the guy who blurted out âholy shitâ 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.
Itâs charming to watch a film where even the kingpinâs 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 filmâs 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 thatâs really likable is the general sense that director Molandâs 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 sonâs 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 Neesonâs Coxman is. He doesnât 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. Heâs just an angry guy who wasnât a particularly present father. Rather than wrestle with his loss or examine how well he did or didnât know his son, he just walks out into the night to bludgeon people to death in search of catharsis. On second thought, maybe this isnât that far removed from Neesonâs comments.