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.
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.
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.
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