Sunday 17 February 2019

Movie Review: Cold Pursuit (2019)

A revenge thriller laced with dark comedy, Cold Pursuit applies a fresh gloss to the traditional lone avenger narrative.

In the fictional small ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado, Nelson Coxman (Liam Neeson) is the local snowplow operator and a rugged man of few words. His quiet life is shattered when his son is killed by a drug gang, straining his marriage to Grace (Laura Dern) to the breaking point. Nelson tracks down local gang members one by one and extracts the ultimate revenge.

The thugs are all working for Denver-based drug kingpin Trevor "Viking" Calcote (Tom Bateman), a second generation mobster now hiding behind expensive suits and a stunning home, while obsessing about the diet and health of his young son. Viking mistakenly believes his crew is being attacked by the rival gang of Native American drug lord White Bull (Tom Jackson). A long-standing peace between the two gangs is shattered and a war of reprisals erupts, with Nelson still doggedly working his way towards full retribution.

With Liam Neeson's annual forays into action territory growing increasingly more routine, Cold Pursuit is an icy breath of fresh air. Director Hans Petter Moland remakes his own Norwegian vigilante film In Order of Disappearance, and in the process shakes up the formula with intriguing locations, interesting villains, and most of all a streak of virulent humour.

The snow-covered small-town setting offers opportunities for some breathtaking visuals, and Nelson's profession of clearing a ribbon of road through mounds of snow represents the aspiration of continued connectivity to civilization. Not to mention giving Nelson access to plenty of heavy machinery capable of causing severe damage to people and equipment.

Breaking open one man's vengeance story into a larger inter-cartel war risks diluting focus, but here works beautifully, helping to introduce a myriad of engaging characters. The responsibility for dishing out violence, action and humour is shared, and interwoven backstories of generations past come to the fore to enrich the film.

The humour is sourced from a commitment to unexpected details. Every character death is accompanied by a dedicated epitaph. Viking's smarminess is off the scale, his witty quips enforcing his delusional belief in his own mythology of respectability. Viking's only match is his ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones), and they are locked into the most domestic of custody battles.

Nelson's formerly gang-connected relative "Wingman" (William Forsythe) has a humourless eagle-eyed wife (Elizabeth Thai) desperate to ensure her husband does not get sucked back into bad habits. And on the edges of both gangs are quirky characters feeding subversive tensions, including a closeted gay relationship that proves pivotal.

Not all the pieces fit together. Laura Dern is largely wasted as Nelson's wife. A couple of local cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) are understandably overwhelmed by the outbreak of violence in their picturesque community. She is much more interested in playing detective than he is, but overall their story is superfluous. And the editing of the larger action scenes is muddled, Moland seemingly overwhelmed once the action moves beyond the more intimate one on one showdowns.

But despite some missteps Cold Pursuit is a wintery blast of blood-soaked fun, finding firm traction in the snow-covered terrain.

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