‘Cold Pursuit’ review: Eccentric examination on revenge cycle

Taking cues from Fargo series and a Quentin Tarantino-inspired direction, ‘Cold Pursuit‘ might be the strangest action film in Liam Neeson’s repertoire.

Debuting ten years ago is the vigilante action flick Taken, arguably the first film to discover Liam Neeson’s ‘particular set of skills’ to be the next badass hero. Since then, the actor has been a commodity in rinse-and-repeat guilty pleasures—apart from the two sequels that followed, one can point out that The Grey, Non-Stop and The Commuter, regardless of how different their procedural setups might be, are essentially follow-ups to Taken’s commercial success. Neeson’s latest, Cold Pursuit, has no pretension of breaking away from that ‘mad dad vengeance’ formula. A law-abiding family man, Nels Coxman (Neeson), turns into a killing machine after his son dies in a staged drug overdose. What follows is pretty standard: Neeson serves his brand of bloody and brass-knuckled justice, leaving a trail of bodies behind. Who gets tired of this act? Action aficionados certainly don’t.

But then Cold Pursuit suddenly tweaks your funny bone and before you know it, we already crossed a goofy territory: surprise, this is a dark comedy! Make no mistake, the script is far from one, but Peter Molland’s visual and editing choices draw absurd delight from the blood lust at play. As the character death escalates, each demise is commemorated by slapping on screen their fancy nicknames along with a cross symbol. Could it be an ode to all the nameless henchmen that most thrillers take for granted? Nope, this is definitely a running joke. By the time the film reaches to a gory conclusion, several names are plastered on screen and I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud.

Liam Neeson in ‘Cold Pursuit’

It’s hard not to admire the film’s visceral cinematography, the fine performances from Neeson and the supporting cast, and even the funny one-liners. The film moves from one crazy scenario to the next, and the sooner you give into its silliness, the better it will be. Coxman uses a snowplow truck as a weapon for mass destruction, and elsewhere, a group of ruthless assassins throw snowballs at each other and giggle like kids. Odd as it may seem, the grisly violence and comic elements mesh together.

Neeson is as earnest as ever: Coxman is a quiet, gloomy man who has learned how to kill and cover his tracks from “reading a crime novel,” while Tom Bateman as the hair-trigger psycho villain Viking, chews the scenery with a heightened sense of gleeful wickedness. The latter borders at a campy level, but considering that the film operates in the director’s twisted sense of humor, it works.

Tom Bateman (Trevor “Viking” Calcote) and Liam Neeson (Nelson “Nels” Coxman)

Plowing through its thick ice of bleak humor, Cold Pursuit unexpectedly feels introspective; it’s an eccentric examination on the cycle of revenge that all starts from one character. While it can be amusing to watch Neeson dispatch bad guys in a ludicrous fashion for two hours, that can get repetitive. So as a defense mechanism, director Molland sprawls the plot outwards to include more characters who’ll do the killing. As Coxman’s suspicions are confirmed (his son is indeed murdered by a gang of drug dealers), he stops at nothing to exact his vengeance. By doing so, he inadvertently sets off a turf war between Viking’s troop and their rival Native American gang headed by White Bull (Tom Jackson). The film shows that vengeance has a powerful ripple effect: one man’s revenge gets blown out of proportion throughout the town. A leader’s son gets killed, and once the phrase “a son for a son” gets mentioned, you know it only goes downhill from there.

Liam Neeson and Tom Jackson (White Bull)

Neeson fans will definitely find amusement here so long as they’re not appalled by the film’s drastic tonal shift to comedy. However, those who are leaning towards more bombastic action setpieces, this film can feel underwhelming. There’s not much elaborate fight choreography and ambitious use of firepower—the brutality here is much grounded on reality.

Cold Pursuit gets unfocused along the way with all the loose subplots involved. It does not always hit its mark as a black comedy save for the most part. The film indulges on its curiosity to explore the thoughts and intentions of the characters surrounding the plot before bringing them together to an eventual carnage-filled third act. It’s almost a satirical take on revenge films—a proof that with the right amount of macabre humor, one can make an above-average revenge thriller.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Hans Petter Moland and written by Frank Baldwin, ‘Cold Pursuit‘ stars Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, and Laura Dern. Based on the 2014 Norwegian film, ‘In Order of Disappearance.’ Run time: 118 minutes.

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway are ex-lovers in ‘Serenity’

VIVA International Pictures and MVP Entertainment proudly present “Serenity”, a film filled with thought-provoking scenes that will give its viewers more sense of mystery than serenity. It opened in cinemas last February 13 and is now showing in Philippine cinemas.

Matthew McConaughey (Academy Award Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club) plays Baker Dill, a fishing boat captain leading a quiet life in Plymouth Island until his ex-wife Karen shows up with what Matthew has described in an interview as ”a very indecent proposal” .   

Karen, played by Anne Hathaway (Academy Award Best Supporting Actress for Les Miserables), is now married to a multi-millionaire named Frank, played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Terminator Genisys).  

Talking about her character, Hathaway says that she’s “in a desperate situation” because she is “trapped in a toxic and abusive marriage”.   She wants Baker to get rid of Frank by taking him out on a fishing tour and dropping him in the ocean for the sharks.  

Hathaway reveals that she and Baker “got together when Karen was quite young”.  They had a child, but he went to war and it tore their family apart.  “And so she has to figure out what she’s gonna do, being a single mom.  She finds this guy (Frank) who kinda reminds her of Dill.  He likes to fish. She starts to think like maybe she can build a life with him, and then he turns out to be her worst nightmare come true.”

Baker, who is now romancing Constance, a moneyed beauty of Plymouth Island, played by Diane Lane (Academy Award nominee for Unfaithful), is still trying to move on from his troubled past.  But can he truly turn his back on his ex-wife?  What will it take for him to forget about his conscience and help her out?

Director Steven Knight (Lock, Redemption), who also wrote the screenplay, attests that “Matthew is the best there is” when it comes to playing Baker Dill.  He explains that the character “doesn’t give of himself too readily, someone who’s closed in and I thought that was Matthew.  Because of the nature of the twist I want beautiful people…and he’s also beautiful.”   As a writer, two of Knight’s best known works are Seventh Son and The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

Serenity is McConaughey and Hathaway’s second movie together.  The first was Interstellar in 2014.  

Asked what drew them to do this movie, Matthew replies, “I saw a character that I could be very personal with, really find an identity that I can understand.”  It’s also a well-written story, plus Knight is a writer/director that he trusts.  

Hathaway agrees with McConaughey about the story being creative and extraordinary. “I got half-way through (reading) and I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m completely in and I just let it carry me away.  And I wind up in a place that was very different than I thought it was going to, but it was a place of feeling and intelligence and soulfulness.”  

Serenity was filmed in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa.