Director: Hans Petter Moland
Screenwriter: Frank Baldwin, based on the movie Kraftidioten [In Order Of Disappearance] written by Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Runtime: 118 mins.
Australian release date: 7 February 2019
Previewed at: Reel Room, Sydney, on 24 January 2019.
A remake of his own 2014 Norwegian film, In Order Of Disappearance, Hans Petter Moland’s English version of his flick is called Cold Pursuit, a play on the fact that this revenge movie takes place in the below-zero, snow-covered Rocky Mountains (but actually shot in Alberta, Canada). It’s the story of a man seeking vengeance for the wrongful killing of his son at the hands of a local drug gang. Set in a glamorous ski resort town called Kehoe, Cold Pursuit is a well-paced and executed (ahem!) tale which is incredibly brutal at times, with a body count that rises like a zombie from a grave, but it also has a dark sense of humour lurking in the shadows, as bloody retribution is accomplished over and over as the plot thickens. This black humour is evident right up to the end credits, where the cast is listed ‘in order of disappearance’.
Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is the town’s snowplough driver, who diligently keeps the roads open during the freezing -10 degree winters. He is a quiet, unassuming man, who doesn’t communicate much, even with his wife Grace (Laura Dern), and is startled when nominated as Citizen of the Year by the local council. His son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson), is caught up inadvertently in a drug scam involving a fellow worker at the local airport and is murdered by a member of a local drug gang, headed by Viking (Tom Bateman), as pay-back for the failed delivery of a shipment of cocaine. After a particularly strange visit to the morgue where Nels and Grace are subjected to the drawn out raising of the body on a foot-pumped, jerky stretcher, Nels is told that his son died from a heroin overdose and begins to suspect that all is not as it seems, so he sets out to find the truth. Thus begins a murderous trail to get to whoever ordered the hit on Kyle, except that Nels only knows about murder from reading crime novels. Soon though, the mounting death toll creates a turf war between Viking and a Native American drug gang headed by White Bull (Tom Jackson). To add to Nels’s woes, Grace leaves him because she can’t deal with the loss of her son and her husband’s driven silence (he, of course, can’t reveal to her his bloody deeds; she just thinks he is unfeeling). Even her parting note is left blank, showing pretty much how she viewed their relationship, but nothing is going to stop Nels from avenging his son’s murder.
It was in 2004’s Taken that Neeson first took on the role of a parent hunting down and killing the men who have kidnapped/killed his daughter/son, inaugurating his late-career persona as a reluctant action hero. It’s a character that has served him well but it is starting to feel like Hollywood has decided that he is the go-to guy for such roles. In Cold Pursuit Neeson once again delivers a nuanced and dead-pan delivery of the everyman man forced into retribution and revenge, but you can’t help feeling like you’ve seen it all before, although, admittedly, the murders are generally quite inventive as they cast buckets of blood across the pure-white landscape. Frank Baldwin’s re-worked script holds up for the most part but does contain a few plot-holes here and there. It’s a shame the original Norwegian film was only shown at the Sydney and Canberra Film Festivals in Australia – it would be interesting to compare the two. Certainly Philip Øgaard, who shot the original film too, makes the frozen landscapes look incredibly beautiful.
You wonder if Liam Neeson will now finally hang up his avenging angel wings and take on more cerebral roles, after his recent disclosure that he believes that many people are intrinsically vengeful (and racist) and his brave acknowledgement that he’d harboured an inappropriate desire to seek revenge in the past. In today’s ‘ready-to-be-enraged’ world, the decision may be taken for him so you better watch Cold Pursuit while you can. It may be your last opportunity to see Neeson in a role like this.