Movie Review : Cold Pursuit (2019)
Liam Neeson isn’t cool anymore. Perhaps he was never really cool or Hollywood’s obsession with making him someone’s badass dad simply ran its course. I don’t know. But watching Neeson retrieve his unlawfully taken kin or avenging their deaths got old. That’s exactly what he’s doing in Cold Pursuit, an adaptation of 2014 Norwegian movie In Order of Disappearance. I wanted to love this movie so bad. A Coen-esque, deadpan revenge movie is my idea of fun. It doesn’t quite get there, but it doesn’t quite fail either. Cold Pursuit is a vaguely unsatisfying experience.
Let’s see where it fucked up.
Cold Pursuit tells the story of Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson), a Colorado family man and snow plow driver who’s son Kyle (Micheàl Richardson) mysteriously dies from an heroin overdose. Broken, he’s visited by another neighborhood kid (Wesley MacInnes) who claims to have been present when Kyle died. So, Coxman pulls his hunting rifle out of his mouth and begins his quest for revenge. That involves murdering the shit out of every drug dealer who thought it was OK to make a man’s son collateral damage to their trade. Because no one can kick your ass like someone’s dad.
This movie is meant to be satire of the Scandinavian thrillers fad and a nod to Coen brothers comedies. There’s no real plot outside of Nels Coxman methodically killing everyone up locals gangsters’ chain of command, but local cops, rival gangs and other parties involved make up stories without properly investigating anyway. Their explanations for the drug dealers’ disappearances mirror the plots of conventional Scandinavian thrillers and accidentally create one while Coxman keeps his killing spree alive unnoticed. It’s funny in an uncomfortable way. The observational humor is dead-on, but heavy handed and without a more original alternative to the clichés it makes fun of.
What I found the most interesting about Cold Pursuit is its treatment of death. It trivializes its own violence and tragedy like most Scandinavian thrillers do, but it constantly acknowledges it. Every character that dies is treated with an on-screen epitaph that’s respectful of their religious beliefs. White people get a cross and Native Americans their own symbols. Extreme brutality and respect for the dead uneasily cohabit in Cold Pursuit, underlining the hypocritical way we treat each other like shit when we’re alive and inexplicably find respect for the dead even if they don’t deserve it. Once again, it’s funny and original… but there isn’t more to it. It doesn’t add up to something greater.
The main problem with Cold Pursuit is that it is somewhat devoid of interesting characters. The antagonist Viking (Tom Bateman) is a one dimensional psychopath trust fund kid. A kind of low-sugar, low-fat, low-fun Patrick Bateman. It’s an easy character to write, but an even easier one to forget. Nels Coxman isn’t even that interesting himself outside of having a blue collar job. His revenge plot is not particularly smart or satisfying. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of revenge. It’s just something that he does because he doesn’t have anything else to look forward to. All the deadpan humor in the world cannot replace visceral involvement and make up for lazy, cardboard writing.
So, there you have it. Oddly enough, Cold Pursuit is a movie that does the sophisticated little things well, but that completely overlooks the basics of effective storytelling. That makes the experience not uninteresting… but somewhat hollow and unsatisfying. Liam Neeson kicking ass doesn’t do the trick anymore. I don’t even think he’s even well-casted in this movie. There’s better things to do with your money than rent Cold Pursuit, like I did. It can wait until it hits streaming platforms, which I’m sure it will incessantly. It’s worth seeing for its intelligent humor, but I wouldn’t recommend paying for it.