Expectations form the backbone of any film’s marketing; release a poster, release a trailer, reveal the genre and the stars, and your audience has automatic ideas and expectations of what they’re going to get as they sit down in the theatre. When you think "revenge thriller starring Liam Neeson", ‘Cold Pursuit’ is probably the last thing one would expect, for better or for worse. Based off the 2014 film ‘In Order of Disappearance’ by Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland, ‘Cold Pursuit’ sees him returning to the director's seat for this English remake. After his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson, ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’) is murdered, snowplough driver Nels Coxman (Neeson, and yes, his surname is played for laughs) is out for blood. Thus begins a revenge tirade that snowballs from a pile of dead drug dealers with increasingly ridiculous nicknames (“It’s a gang thing,” one character explains) into a turf war between two drug kingpins. Yes, ‘Cold Pursuit’ is full of blood, but it’s unexpectedly also full of.... laughs?
One can draw parallels between ‘Fargo’ and the ‘Black Mirror’ episode ‘Crocodile’, but the major difference is ‘Cold Pursuit’s' paper-thin plot. It's obvious that the film isn’t concerned with how Coxman comes to terms with his son’s death other than through violence, nor is it concerned with bringing this plot thread to a conclusion in the third act. There’s no closure, no proof of character growth, nor catharsis. It’s here that the reason the first act is so bloated with B-plots becomes apparent; they’re going to become the film’s main focus. Instead of the standard revenge tale one might have been expecting, we get time with the film’s villain Tom Bateman (‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘Snatched’) as he handles his broken family dynamic, the Native American drug ring who provide some of the film’s biggest laughs, and the police officers (Emmy Rossum, TV’s ‘Shameless’ and John Doman, ‘Blue Valentine’) watching the body count rise.
‘Cold Pursuit’ isn’t without its charms; admittedly, one its strongest aspects is the actors’ commitment to their roles. Drug lord and main antagonist Viking is played to comic perfection by Bateman, his face is so elastic that it appears able to twist into any variation of rage. It’s a sight to behold, and provides some of the film’s best comedic moments. Shockingly, Liam Neeson is among the weakest players, definitely a side effect of his plot being sidelined for the turf war. Shifting of action away from Neeson also feels like a wise choice given the actor's age; after the infamous fence-jumping scene in ‘TAK3N’, 66-year-old Neeson and Moland know better than to cheat the audience with shoddily-cut action sequences of a stunt double that obviously isn’t Neeson. This film also criminally underutilises the talents of Emmy Rossum and Laura Dern, giving them minimal screen time and next to no character arcs.
When you think ‘revenge thriller starring Liam Neeson’, ‘Cold Pursuit’ is probably the last thing one would expect, for better or for worse.
Speaking of editing, this is definitely not ‘Cold Pursuit’s strong suit; shots of explosive acting feel trimmed far too short, undermining any emotional weight in the scene. This may have been the director’s way of trying to get back to the slow motion, vividly-lit shots that, along with beautiful cinematography, make ‘Cold Pursuit’ aesthetically pleasing to watch. I was also very dissatisfied with the cheap-feeling title cards that signified a character’s death, but as the tone shifted, they landed better and added to the film’s humour.
Perhaps the most baffling aspect of ‘Cold Pursuit’ are the comedic elements, which play both to its advantage and also harm it. Unfortunately, a majority of the big laughs are rooted in behaviours no logical human would ever display, and the film confuses when to employ said laughs (the number of confused, nervous giggles in my screening as a morgue bed squeakily elevates were a testament to this; the scene is intended to be devastating for Neeson’s character). This silliness and muddled tone make ‘Cold Pursuit’ at times feel like the kind of film one would expect to find buried deep in the Netflix catalogue.
‘Cold Pursuit’ should be commended for being fun and for trying to do something different than the average revenge thriller, but its fresher elements aren’t strong enough to justify their existence or elevate the film from other thrillers of recent years.