Cold Pursuit sees Liam Neeson in another tired revenge formula film, this time set in the snowy Rocky Mountains. It allows for some impressive scenery. That’s about the best thing I can say for this one.
It’s not a good thing when the best part of a murder mystery is shots of a snow plow cutting through large quantities of white stuff. That, oddly enough, is a beautiful thing to watch and had me wishing this was a documentary about a guy trying to keep a mountain pass clear in the winter rather than another Fargo rip-off.
Neeson plays Nels Coxman and, yes, the film contains plenty of jokes about that last name. Nels has just won citizen of the year for keeping the roads clear, just in time for his son Kyle (Michael Richardson) to be killed by a criminally forced heroin overdose. Turns out Kyle interfered in some drug dealings with a major dealer nicknamed Viking (Tom Bateman) and got put in a fatal predicament made to look like an addict’s accident.
Nels knows better and seeks out answers. When he starts getting them, he kills off those responsible, one by one, until the path leads to Viking. When he gets there, the plan involves Viking’s young son (“You took my son’s life. You have a son. He’s going to be taken!”)
This is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, which had Stellan Skarsgard in the Neeson role and also had the same director, Hans Petter Moland. Moland straight up repeats much of what happened in his original film, shooting many of the scenarios identically. There’s little to no reason for this remake to exist, other than cashing in on the Neeson name.
By the way, Skarsgard’s last name in the original was Dickman. Get it? Dickman becomes a Coxman? Give me a break.
In the original, the drug lord’s misinterpretation of what’s going on leads to a turf war between Norwegians and Serbians. This time out, the misbegotten turf war is between a mix of typical American assholes and guys from a nearby Native American reservation. Oh, hey, I just figured out that the character named Viking is an ode to the original Norwegian film. There you have it—another lame change posing as clever.
Laura Dern shows up as Nels’ wife and mom to Kyle, but—clearly—her paycheck wasn’t all that sizeable, so she bolts from the film fairly early on. Emmy Rossum is given the role of the only police officer on the force trying to make a go at solving what’s going on. That, mixed with the frozen tundra and attempts at dark humor, is what gives the film that feeling of Fargo rip-off.
As for Neeson, this is a role he’s played many times before. He’s picking his roles slightly better than, say, the also aging Bruce Willis, but he’s definitely allowed himself to get typecast at this point. His small role in last year’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was his best work since his other frozen tundra action flick, The Grey. Actually, if you have a hankering for Neeson running around in the snow and have never seen The Grey, get on it. That one is a classic.
If there’s a stand-out performance in Cold Pursuit, it’s probably Bateman. He’s the only one in the movie who seems to get that it’s supposed to be a little funny and outlandish. His compulsive tweaking of his son’s diet and strange take on bullying make him a nightmare dad but a pretty funny bad guy. He deserved a better movie.
If you must see a movie about a snow plow driver killing a bunch of people Charles Bronson-style, watch the original (Hey, Bruno Ganz is in it!) As far as movies about snow plow driving killers go, Cold Pursuit is a boring ride.