Wednesday 17 July 2019

Cold Pursuit review: 'Slick and surprisingly stylish film is easily the best thing Liam Neeson has done in years'

4 stars

Liam Neeson stars as 'Nels Coxman' in Cold Pursuit. Photo credit: Doane Gregory/Lionsgate
Liam Neeson stars as 'Nels Coxman' in Cold Pursuit. Photo credit: Doane Gregory/Lionsgate

Chris Wasser

Oh, boy. So, um, this is the film that Liam Neeson was, uh, you know, trying to promote when he, er, decided to share his own, erm, personal revenge story with a reporter. You know what he said — it made global headlines.

Now, I don’t know what Liamo thought would happen when he told a journalist that he once went looking for a black man to kill, after a close friend revealed that she’d been raped, but I like to think — and it’s only because I really am trying to untangle the chap’s mindset here — that he thought we’d all understand.

Perhaps he thought he was telling a story about the time he allowed his anger to take hold of him, and how it almost — almost — resulted in a violent, racist outburst. I think he thought he was drawing parallels to the character he plays in Cold Pursuit. Maybe he thought we might like to know that even the great Liam Neeson once stumbled over into the dark side — but managed to find his way back.

The only problem is, we didn’t want to know this. He should have kept it to himself. His choice of language was both insensitive and wildly inappropriate. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, the kind of statement that can end a career. And that’s a right bloomin’ shame, because Cold Pursuit is easily the best thing he’s done in years.

This ain’t no Taken we’re dealing with. This isn’t even The Grey. What we have here is a slick and surprisingly stylish remake of the 2014 Norwegian black comedy, In Order of Disappearance, about an ordinary snow plough driver who falls off the deep end, following the death of his son, and becomes a violent vigilante.

Yes, I know: it sounds like Taken in the snow, but the beauty of this bold and bizarre offering, helmed by Hans Petter Moland (who also directed the original), is that it is so much more than a Liam Neeson movie. It is, in fact, a rich and textured ensemble piece; a wickedly funny, small-town drama, occasionally dressed up as a noisy action flick. It is the best film that the Coen brothers never made. It is, essentially, Liam Neeson’s Fargo.

We’re in the fictional, snow-covered ski town of Kehoe, in Colorado, where Nelson Coxman (Neeson), an amiable snow-plough driver, has just been awarded ‘Citizen of the Year’. Alas, the next day, Coxman’s life is turned upside down when his adult son is found dead. The official cause of death is a heroin overdose, but Coxman is convinced that his son wasn’t a drug addict.

His wife, Grace (Laura Dern), suffers a mental breakdown, and Coxman almost takes his own life, until he discovers that a gang of criminals, working for a vicious drug lord, who calls

himself ‘Viking’ (Tom Bateman), might have had something to do with his son’s death.

So, our man in the snow plough decides to seek revenge, slowly but surely, tracking down every last one of Viking’s henchmen, until he finds the bloke in charge. We won’t give anything away, but let’s just say that things get messy. Really, really messy.

Read Paul Whitington's review: Cold Pursuit review: 'An amusing film, beautiful to look at, and Mr. Neeson enjoys himself hugely, and seems to be in on the joke'

A witty, smart and imaginative display, Cold Pursuit digs a hell of a lot deeper than it needs to. The closer our man in the winter coat gets to the Viking, the more this story opens up into some weird and deliciously dark places.

There are numerous sub plots (one involving a Native American drug lord and his family is pure gold). There are so many supporting players. Not all of them have room to breathe (Dern is completely wasted, unfortunately). But we do appreciate the effort to make this visceral and violent Neeson vehicle a cut above the rest.

What separates Cold Pursuit from the likes of Taken (other than the fact that it’s beautiful to look at, and damn-near poetic in its execution), is that it boasts a proper story. And, we all know what happens when you give Liam Neeson a decent screenplay. The man shows up. He remembers how to act.

Here, he delivers his tightest and strongest performance in years. It’s a terrific film, and it’s such a shame that Liamo had to go and spoil it all by saying something stupid.

(16, 119mins)

Also releasing this week:

On the Basis of Sex review: 'Biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsburg unlucky not to have earned a few Oscar nominations of its own' Capernaum review: 'Frantic, fast, full of colour and feeling and bursts of raw humour'

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