For a second, I wondered if I had entered the wrong auditorium to watch the Liam Neeson-starrer, Cold Pursuit. I was expecting a violent tale of retribution. But the movie began with the signature Oscar Wilde witticism: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
The movie establishes its plot and themes swiftly. Nels Coxman (Neeson), a snowplough driver in the fictional Colorado town of Kehoe, ploughs a lonely furrow and is an asset for the community. He quietly steers his bulldozing vehicle as it shovels the snowy landscape to clear the roads, and is recognised as citizen of the year. His son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson), who unloads baggage at the local airport, is soon handed over to his parents at the morgue. Coxman’s wife Grace (Laura Dern) is left wondering how little they knew Kyle, who is reported dead due to heroin overdose. But Coxman is unable to accept that his son was an addict, and is about to shoot himself at his shop when Kyle’s blood-spattered colleague, Dante (Wesley MacInnes), tells him that he did indeed become a victim after getting mixed up with drug dealers.
As Coxman proceeds to take out men — part of the drug cartel who he believes were behind his son’s death — with cold brutality, one fears that the rest of the movie would be mainly about white snow and red blood, and little besides flinching and keeping count of the bodies.
After killing his first target, Speedo (Michael Eklund), outside a night club, Coxman wraps his body with chicken wire and throws it into a gorge. The first time it’s disturbing. As it becomes routine for him, the audience laughs and the Wilde reference begins to seem not out of place. Later in the movie, Coxman matter of factly explains to his estranged brother, Brock, that he read in a crime novel that the chicken wire allows fish to pick out flesh from the body while ensuring the skeleton eventually rests on the riverbed.
Cold Pursuit is a remake of director Hans Petter Moland’s own Norwegian black comedy In Order of Disappearance (2014). The cinematography by Philip Øgaard is full of wide shots that capture a spectacular skiing town, with the splendid snowy Rocky Mountains in the backdrop. Police officer Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) sniffs a turf war between drug cartels, which is inadvertently set off by Coxman’s revenge mission. When she frowns at youths smoking weed by the wayside, her partner “Gip” Gipsky (John Doman) talks about community policing instead, remarking: “Folks come here to ski, have sex and get high.”
Unbeknown to the townsfolk, the turf war pits Denver drug lord Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman) against Native American kingpin White Bull (Tom Jackson). Kyle isn’t the only son to be killed. There are enough killings, both nonchalant and banal à la Tarantino and vindictive and premeditated, for Cold Pursuit to have been titled “No Country for Young Men”. Breach of trust between rivals has White Bull baying “blood for blood, son for son”.
The father-son or estranged husband-wife equations — be it between the Coxmans or between Viking and his ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones) fighting over the custody of their son — add sustained drama to elements of vendetta and self-conscious black humour. Even at the climactic sequence, where rivals fall like nine pins during a gunfight at Coxman’s shop, a developing “father-son” kinship between him and Viking’s school-going son (despite a seemingly contrived Stockholm Syndrome moment) keeps us more engaged than a predictable ending would.
Neeson does a fine turn in his understated role of grieving father. Plaudits are due to Bateman, too, for his act as the unbending overlord of a sleazy world. It is a shame that Neeson may be remembered more for his recent revenge-related comments in an interview — criticised roundly as racist utterances — rather than his performance in the movie.