Released back in February (just in time for Valentine’s Day!), Cold Pursuit was this year’s Liam Neeson revenge flick.
This time, Neeson played Nels Coxman, a snow plow driver who speaks in a raspy tone of voice and tends to walk around with a thousand-yard stare on his face. After his son is killed by gangsters, Nels sets out for revenge. It turns out that Nels’s father was some sort of mob enforcer so both Nels and his brother (William Forsythe) have apparently inherited the “instinctively know how to kill” gene So, while Nels’s wife (Laura Dern) stays at home and has a nervous breakdown, Nels heads out and starts killing folks. Since the gangsters are led by an idiot named Viking (Tom Bateman), they all assume that they’re being targeted by a rival drug gang, one which is led by a Ute named White Bull (Tom Jackson). So, while the two drug gangs are killing each other off, Nels is busy killing any stragglers that he comes across. It all adds up to a lot of killing.
Cold Pursuit is different from other Liam Neeson revenge films by the fact that it’s an out-and-out parody of the genre. So, while Neeson walks through the film with his usual glum expression and commits all the usual mayhem that we’ve come to expect from a vengeance-driven Neeson, everyone else plays their role as broadly as possible. Tom Bateman leaves not a single piece of scenery unchewed in the role of Viking while Tom Jackson is stoic to the point of insanity in the role of White Bull. Whenever a gangster gets killed, a title card appears, listing his name, his nickname, and his religion. Meanwhile, two cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) prove to be comically ineffective.
And I will admit that I did laugh a few times while watching Cold Pursuit. The scene where Neeson asks his brother to explain why everyone has a nickname made me smile. Some of the murders are clever and the action scenes are frequently so over-the-top that you can’t help but be amused by them.
That said, Cold Pursuit didn’t really work for me. I think the problem is that the filmmakers spent so much time trying to parody Neeson’s films that they didn’t consider that the majority of those films are themselves already parodies. I mean, just watch The Commuter and tell me that film isn’t cheerfully winking at the audience. Since Neeson’s screen persona hasn’t really been a serious one for close to ten years now, parodying it isn’t quite the subversive act that Cold Pursuit seems to think it is. The difference between Neeson’s other films and Cold Pursuit is the difference between merely winking at an audience or pulling a gun on an audience while demanding, “LAUGH, DAMN YOU!” Sometimes, the funniest jokes are the ones that you pretend you’re not making.
On the plus side, the film looks gorgeous. It takes place in the Colorado mountains and makes great use of the frozen landscape. And George Fenton’s score is nicely evocative and well-used in the film. Finally, Liam Neeson is always fun to watch, even when it’s in a somewhat flawed film like this one.