We ventured off to the eastern Appletonion tundra for an exclusive viewing of Cold Pursuit, one of the whitest movies you are ever likely to see. L&D had our usual spectacular reserved seats, but being the sole souls in one of the Marcus spacious megaplexes, we were free to throw our hands up in the air and wave ’em like we just didn’t care and we said “oh, yeah!” Not too shabby for $5.
The verdict for this one: Revenge is a dish best served cold. Really cold. By Liam Neeson. And for the most part, we really enjoyed what director Hans Petter Moland served up, and you will probably find plenty to enjoy here, too. There are great visuals, some compelling characters, high comedy, and some thrilling, efficient violence. But while the movie has many good pieces, these pieces just don’t add up to a great movie.
The biggest piece, as you know, is Neeson himself. He plays Nels Coxman (giving us a second reason to break out the “cock” tag), a snowplow driver tasked with keeping the road clear from Denver to the skiing community of Kehoe. He is a great guy, he’s the winner of the coveted Kehonian-of-the-Year Award, though we aren’t really sure why, which is one of the many added elements here that never quite adds up.
Mrs. Coxman is played by Laura Dern, or perhaps a mannequin that looks like Laura Dern — given a long blonde wig and a handful of quaaludes I could have probably played this part as well. Her best line in the movie is her farewell card, which in retrospect was pretty funny, though at that point in the movie it wasn’t clear that this was a black comedy, so it wasn’t that funny. And she wasn’t around to deliver the card anyway, so that was too bad. But, hey, Laura Dern!
The spawn of the Coxman union doesn’t hang around for long, either. He works at the local airport and gets Taken™ under highly suspicious circumstances, sending the movie on its bloody white trajectory.
As in other Neeson projects, he has a particular set of skills — learned from listening to true-crime novels while he drives, perhaps? — that allow him to rub out bad guys and get to the bottom of things. Clearly, the hook here is that he is a man of all seasons.
The rest of the plot is just all over the place. The Denver drug kingpin, “Viking” (Tom Bateman), is like a gluten-free Quentin Tarantino, in looks and in propensities for clever wordplay and idiosyncratic ultra-violence. Viking is a pretty high-quality villain. He is in the process of divorcing his wife, and the two battle over appropriate dietary choices of their son, who is sort of like a Lisa Simpson character, listening to Bach and picking football games. There are also a couple of points of intrigue amongst the Viking henchmen that are essential to the plot but that probably warranted either a little more or a little less attention.
As Neeson works his way up the Viking food chain, he enlists the help of his mustachioed brother, a reformed gangster gone straight thanks to an assertive and colorful Vietnamese woman. His brother seems affable enough, so it’s not clear why the two were estranged? Hard to say. His brother’s wife (Elizabeth Thai) is one of the reasons you might want to buy a ticket to this movie. She is a woman to be reckoned with and it’s a shame we didn’t get more of a reckoning with her.
Viking initially attributes the damage to his gang to a Native American gang that runs things in Kehoe, putting Neeson in the middle of a gang spat. This is being monitored by the Kehoe P.D., featuring the set-in-his-ways veteran and the savvy young partner.
That is a lot of characters competing for attention, not to mention the supporting and incidentals cast. We are also hit with a shotgun blast of literary referencing, with the movie kicking off with a direct quote from Oscar Wilde, then an allusion to a Robert Frost poem within the first few minutes, and then the dropping William Golding shortly thereafter. L started taking notes on the back of his ticket stub just to try to keep us up to speed. It’s also probably notable that pretty much every named character has a nickname, The Eskimo, Santa, Speedo, Limbo, Santa, Smoke, Windex, and on it goes. I bet that fits together in a clever way, but I don’t think the payoff is big enough for me to actually dump the pieces on the table and figure it out.
I learned that this film is actually a remake of his 2014 film In Order of Disappearance, which Morland directed for the more exclusive Norwegian audience (I just put it on hold at APL!). I suppose the reason you make a remake is to take advantage of Hollywood money and Hollywood stars, such as Neeson and Dern. Yet the film, despite its outrageous outdoor visuals, isn’t shot on widescreen. Why is that?
Overall, this is an ambitious project, but Moland unfortunately never quite got a handle on his narrative. He genuflects to the Coen brothers (especially and obviously Fargo, but also No Country for Old Men for its meditations on uncertainty) and Tarantino (see above), while also exploiting Neeson’s particular set of tools for the everyman vigilante angle. This is probably closer to Fargo the television serial than Fargo the Coen brothers classic, but two hours isn’t enough time to flesh out the likes of ten or so principal characters. And so Moland ultimately failed to make the hard choices about choosing a theme and tightening the narrative. Coupled with the onset of Neeson’s own foot-in-mouth disease, this film seems to be queued up for its own disappearance from the public’s consciousness.