Cold Pursuit Review
Watching a Liam Neeson is such a comfortable, familiar experience. The number of times the man has rescued or avenged a family member, you would think he'd have run out of ways to kill bad guys by now. His latest, Cold Pursuit, turns out to be a pleasant diversion from the formula then, a revenge-crime caper set amidst snow-stuffed roads and cocaine cartels.
Director Hans Petter Moland's film, a remake of his own Norwegian film, is a Fargo-esque revenge comedy about a father (Neeson) going on the offensive against the drug cartel in his small town after they kill his son. What ensures is a tale of violent actions and reactions with a dark comedy bend.
Moland does his best to bring a fresh spin on the tired tale of a Liam Neeson-type (Liam Neeson himself a majority of the times) killing a few dozen henchmen while thirsting for revenge. I like that he makes it a point to make it clear that Neeson only sets the ball rolling here and not singlehandedly taking care of every single bad guy within a 100 mile radius. The repeated use of title cards as obituaries for the recently deceased isn't just a comic gag but also Moland's attempt to approach Neeson's character with an rare human-like mortality (even though he doesn't manage to get even a single bruise throughout all the action) and goes on to show that Neeson is just the spark that was needed to light the fire of violence in a small town of 6000 people, rather than present him as an undefeatable vigilante.
The occasionally comic tone, on the other hand, is a bit hit-and-miss at the end of the day and Cold Pursuit doesn't quite become the successor to Fargo that you start hoping for 30 minutes into the film. The character eccentricities are played up for a few good laughs, including a villain who wants to put his young son on a strict diet of boiled chicken and beans, and the occasional left-field one-liners and gags work too, but it can't make up for the lack of rising action and prolonged periods of plotless dullness.
Moland realizes the weakness of the written material (screenplay by Frank Baldwin) and tries to cover up for it by submerging the film in stylish treatment and deliberate pacing but it's about time directors started realizing that saving a bad screenplay should be the last resort, not a first acceptable option. The best works of the Coen Bros. have always walked a fine line between intricate writing and delicate tonality. Unlike Noah Hawley, who treaded the Coens' path with shocking adeptness on the Fargo TV show, Moland and Baldwin's work lacks the genuine wit and character exploration to compete at the same level.
Neeson plays Neeson decently well again, but the lack of exploration of his character's hurt hamstrungs the emotional core of the film. Tom Bateman is the most impressive of the cast, taking an unlikeable antagonist and making him halfway fun to watch with his little neuroses and racist attitude that always undermine him rather than make him formidable. The complete and utter wastage of talented actors like Laura Dern and Emmy Rossum in thankless parts that have nothing to do is the ultimate shortcoming of this film.
Nevertheless, Cold Pursuit makes for interesting respite from the predictability of Liam Neeson's wheelhouse. The film has more ambition and entertainment than your typical old-man-with-a-gun macho films and there's a decent possibility that non-Neeson viewers will find something good to take away from this film too.
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