It’s February so you know what that means – a new Liam Neeson movie. Late January and February have become synonymous with these Neeson action flicks in the vein of “Taken”, “Non-Stop”, and “The Commuter”. Not sure how that’s important but consider it information nonetheless.
Right out of the gate his new film “Cold Pursuit” has all the markings of a prototypical Neeson revenge thriller. A gravelly-voiced old-timer loses someone close to him. He then unleashes ‘a particular set of skills’ to find out who is responsible and offer up his own special brand of payback.
Nels Coxman (Neeson) spends his evenings plowing a lonely track of mountain road that connects the fictional tourist town of Kehoe to the rest of civilization. He’s a reserved fellow who lives on a hill outside of town with his wife Grace (a woefully underserved Laura Dern). Outside of helping Nels with his cufflinks, she is given nothing to do but stand in the background.
The couple’s world is shattered when they get news that their son (played by Neeson’s real world son Micheal Richardson) is found dead of an apparent heroin overdose. Grace closes herself off and Nels doesn’t want to believe it. He gets news that his son’s death is linked to a posh, health food obsessed drug lord affectionately known as Viking (Tom Bateman). Nels sets out to kill the man responsible, cutting through any henchman who is dumb enough to get in his way.
“Cold Pursuit” is director Hans Petter Moland’s remake of his own 2014 Norwegian thriller “In Order of Disappearance”. From one perspective the movie offers up plenty of what Neeson’s fans enjoy. This once unexpected action star has developed a certain gravitas that fits really well with these types of movies. I’ll admit it’s fun to watch him dole out punishment on the wicked. Here the violence can be brutal but intentionally over-the-top which (in a rather perverse way) feels right for this story.
Another plus (and a genuine surprise for me) is the healthy dose of dark comedy that is spread throughout, sometimes at the weirdest and most unexpected moments. It does throw a kink in the overall tone, but I admit to really getting a kick out of it. Some of the humor feels too out of place, but when it lands it can be pretty funny. And in some cases it’s the humor alone that salvages certain scenes hampered by some real shortcomings with the story.
One of the biggest disappointments is in how little attention Moland gives to the emotions of his characters most notably Nels. The film deals in some pretty heavy subject matter yet it only offers a couple of moments for Nels and Grace to show any hint of sorrow or pain. And as he starts offing Viking’s low-level thugs, he does so in the most detached and dispassionate way. It basically throws away the emotional weight Neeson’s character desperately needs. And as I said Laura Dern is squandered in a truly thankless role. There is a real opportunity to explore grief through them but Moland doesn’t seem at all interested in that.
Moland and writer Frank Baldwin throw in other narrative pieces that aren’t given enough attention to matter. There’s a wedged in custody battle between Viking and his ex-wife (Julia Jones). We also get a Native American drug gang that the movie seems to want to do some interesting things with but who end up serving as little more than a plot device.
So where do I land on “Cold Pursuit”? On one hand it offers up more of Neeson’s early year revenge-fueled action. Plus the unexpected dark humor adds a wacky layer that I enjoyed far more often than not. On the other hand you have the emotional blandness of the lead character and pretty much everyone else we see. They all operate at the exact same temperature. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find the humanity in anyone. And that’s without getting into the ending and the head-scratching loose ends it leaves dangling. So I land in the middle, completely aware of the movie’s sense of uniqueness but also bummed at how it misses a mark it could have easily hit.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS