Friday 8 February 2019

Film Review: Cold Pursuit

What's that cheeky Liam Neeson been up to? Well, when he's not setting Film Twitter ablaze, he's been kicking ass and taking names (sans cosh) in Cold Pursuit.

One of the strangest film peculiarities of the last decade has been Liam Neeeson's transformation from stoic and wise mentor (Qui-Gon Jinn, Aslan, Zeus, Ra al Ghul) to gruff baby boomer wish fulfilment action hero following 2008's Taken. Cold Pursuit is possibly the strangest yet, as it explores a darker corner of Neeson's late-career niche – albeit one with a sadistic streak worked into the mix as well.

The film sees Neeson play Nels Coxman, a modest man who makes a living plowing the snowy roads that connect Kehoe, Colorado to the outside world. In the midst of winter, the town relies on Coxman to clear the roads and keep business to its popular ski resort flowing. However, when Coxman's son is murdered by a local gang, the mild-mannered model citizen sets out to end those responsible.

Much to my surprise, Cold Pursuit is funny. Like, really funny. Funnier than 90 per cent of mainstream studio comedies. And it balances this humour with some particularly grisly gore too. Trust me, it seems a bit weird at first, but the film's wicked streak wins you over. Some of the jokes fall flat, but on the whole this has a better hit rate than the latest Kevin Hart vehicle – and none of those films stack attempted suicide and slapstick side-by-side do they? I've never seen Tiffany Haddish wrap a corpse in chicken wire and toss it down a waterfall.

What's even more surprising is Cold Pursuit's ability to mesh violence and laughs with some serious messaging as well. Director Hans Petter Moland, who also directed the original Norwegian film on which Cold Pursuit is based, has skilfully crafted a film that illustrates the damaging and circular nature of violence and revenge. This isn't your conventional shoot 'em up where the bodies pile up and shell casings coat the floor. Each death has meaning or serves a purpose – and the film marks each fatality with a title card listing the victim's name, nickname and religious affiliation, like a celluloid gravestone. 

What's more, Cold Pursuit spends a lot of time with characters other than Neeson's. Moland is interested in exploring the other inhabitants of Kehoe and how Nels' warpath is has meaningful consequences for them as well. Emmy Rossum's plucky beat cop, Julia Jones' embattled single mother and Tom Bateman's pensive Native American gangster all stand out, but the large ensemble has good stuff everywhere you look. The only actor who doesn't really get to shine is Laura Dern, who plays Nels' wife – the film sidelines her fast and without fanfare.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Dark, humorous and poignant – something isn't right. Isn't this a standard Neeson shoot 'em up? If all this sounds like it adds up to something strange, you'd be right. Cold Pursuit was not what I expected beforehand, and I expect many audiences will feel the same way.

However, that's what makes it stand out from the crowd. We've seen so many of these that they all blur together – Commute All Night Amongst the Unknown Tombstones or whatever. But Cold Pursuit? It's worth checking out. The director brings a distinctly European vibe and the fact this isn't a one-man show works in its favour.

Cold Pursuit is in cinemas across Australia now.

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