“Cold Pursuit,” Liam Neeson’s newest blockbuster, has been met with controversy due to his comments while promoting the film. The central theme of the movie is revenge, and Neeson infamously commented that he related to his character because he once wished for revenge after a black man sexually assaulted a friend of his (he later realized he had made a stupid mistake). Intrigued, I decided to watch “Cold Pursuit” and see if the weight of such a statement was backed by an equally weighty film. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed.
“Cold Pursuit” had so much potential. It follows Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson), a snow plow driver who recently won an award as Citizen of the Year. Coxman lives a rather mundane, everyday existence plowing the streets of Kehoe, a snowy ski town, until his son is caught up in a drug deal and is killed. Driven mad with revenge, Coxman embarks on a one-man mission to kill those responsible, but he accidentally sparks a war between two rival drug gangs, one white and one Native American, and inadvertently causes the deaths of several dozen people.
The film is an adaptation of the Scandinavian film “In Order of Disappearance,” and is directed by the original Norwegian director. Scandinavian media is famous for being dark, crime-oriented and punctuated with black comedy (think “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). “Fargo” proved that some American media can capture this aesthetic, but “Cold Pursuit” felt like a clumsy translation. At times, the dialogue was stilted and underdeveloped, particularly that of Kehoe’s two (utterly useless) police officers; I found myself wondering if the nuances of the original didn’t quite make it into English. The landscape and scenery was certainly cold but not quite as chilling as last year’s Native American crime drama, “Wind River.” The “funny” notes just don’t land and often come off as bizarre rather than humorous. The film, while dark, doesn’t nearly reach the depravity of other drug dramas like “Breaking Bad.” We’re left with wish-wash that falls somewhere between black and comedy while missing both marks.
“Cold Pursuit” felt overly ambitious, attempting to make social commentary with a rather scatter-gun approach. We are presented with one drug gang of Native Americans who feel wronged by the white ski-travelers and businessmen who have taken over the town, but their plight doesn’t receive enough focus to leave a lasting impression. We have one bumbling, clueless old cop and another ambitious millennial cop who (in a rather non-millennial fashion) wants to arrest everyone who uses drugs - was this supposed to be some sort of commentary on the war on drugs? If so, it wasn’t clear.
Heavy-handed metaphors continually slap us in the face and feel forced and contrived rather than powerful. Worst of all is the fact that this film had serious potential to show the true devastation of hatred, revenge and bigotry, and vindicate Neeson for his comments. So many people die unnecessarily due to hate and prejudice, but the deaths in “Cold Pursuit” don’t leave enough of an impact for a modern, desensitized audience to care. We are presented with the opportunity to learn something, or at least walk away with some kind of resolved message at the end of the movie, but are instead left with a directionless mess.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Tom Bateman, who plays “Viking,” the white drug lord, is compelling and hate-worthy, the living embodiment of entitled, misogynistic, racist smarminess. Brock Coxman (William Forsythe), Nels’ brother, is married to a small angry Asian woman with a pink suitcase who positively channels my mother and is probably the only funny part of the film. The relationship between Viking’s son and Nels is oddly satisfying to watch. The problem with “Cold Pursuit” was not the acting; it was the direction.
Despite my criticisms, the film is a thoroughly entertaining watch, even if it isn't memorable. This is definitely worth watching once the Netflix release comes out.