Review by C.J. Bunce
This is what I was hoping for in Jonas Åkerlund’s movie Polar, the brutal Mads Mikkelsen dark action movie that was more wannabe Zack Snyder than anything interesting, fun, or thought-provoking. Cold Pursuit is something like Polar. You’ll feel the cold, sure. But director Hans Petter Molland′s take on dark comedy is a little more subtle, less “look at me and all the carnage I can fit on a screen and have my characters laugh about.” But Cold Pursuit is also not the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. And that’s a good thing if you don’t worship Coen Brothers movies. It’s also a good thing if you like Fargo only a little bit.
What the heck am I talking about? Unlike a lot of films that go direct to streaming services, this was a theatrical release. You can tell the difference. So it beats out most direct-to-Netflix, Amazon, etc. fare. But Cold Pursuit was marketed and billed more like a dark comedy. Only it’s not very funny. But it’s an enjoyable, satisfying revenge flick. So blame the marketing. Cold Pursuit is a steady, measured drama about a resourceful snowplow driver near Denver, played by Liam Neeson (sporting a Han Solo at Hoth parka), who is successful at his job, but less successful with his family relationships, including communicating with his wife, played rather blandly by Laura Dern (it’s the part, not the performer). When their son is murdered by a low-level member of the local drug community, Neeson’s character, Nels Coxman, first tries to kill himself. When he learns his kid wasn’t really involved in drugs he begins relentlessly pursuing everyone involved in the world that killed his son, aiming for the top, which reaches back to an anal-retentive, self-absorbed, young, wealthy kingpin called Viking back in the city, played expertly vile by Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express). This is when the movie takes the action turn. Bateman plays that villain you love to hate and really want to see get a comeuppance.
Dozens of named characters get killed in different ways throughout the picture (I thought about counting the bodies but didn’t). Each cleverly gets their own pre-sound era cinema “tombstone” as they are marked off the list (including their religion–oddly irrelevant but humorous). Even if it’s a little spoliery (yes, that’s the correct spelling) to know it, if it helps get people to see the movie then it’s worth knowing that Neeson’s character is not a criminal type or tough guy, but calls forth that familiar guy from the Taken movies to open ample six-packs (several) of whoop-ass on the bad guys.
This movie is all about Liam Neeson being cool, and it’s about enjoying villains getting killed (it’s okay, they’re all bad) by a father who is fed up. So it’s a little bit Falling Down. That comes about as they pull in the local Native American community, which includes a rival drug kingpin to Viking, played by the suave and commanding Cree-Canadian actor Tom Jackson (Outlander, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Some racial humor wanders in, but it’s carried by the Native American actors–so laugh, or not.
The bad guys all have clever nicknames, and as Nels’ brother Wingman tells us, it’s a gangster thing. Wingman is played by William Forsythe (The Man in the High Castle, Halloween, Dick Tracy), a smart choice making for some interesting family compare-and-contrast moments. The movie is dark, not that funny, but fun–it’s really fun to watch Neeson clobber people, like a 1970s Chuck Norris movie. Nels’ method of dumping bodies is a cleverly featured story component. Neeson is only 67 (Arnold is 72, Stallone is 73)–he should keep cranking out these movies as long as he can, although he’s said this was his last action movie.
The Fargo element shines through even more because of a supporting character played by Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera, Shameless, Mystic River). But she’s not quirky–she’s a small town ambitious cop who must address the death of Nels’ son and the impending body count. Her reactions and honest and believable, and along with her grisled partner, played by John Doman (Gotham, Cop Land, Deep Space Nine), they add an unusual gravitas to the film as yokel buddy cops. Plus, you’ll feel the cold, maybe not North Dakota style, but east of Denver appears just as bleak with deep snow.