Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Michael Eklund, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson
Rated R for strong violence, drug material and some language including sexual references
1 hr. 58 mins.
Cold Pursuit is a remake of a Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance (2014). Same story, same director: Hans Petter Moland.
In this case, the setting is Denver and the Rocky Mountains, though anyone familiar with the geography will immediately know that this was filmed elsewhere, namely in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.
You might call this a Norwegian version of the Cohen Brothers. It has that kind of bland and off-kilter humor. Dark, violent, irreverent and often quite funny.
Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is much loved in the mountain town of Kehoe, so much so that he’s being named “Citizen of the Year.” His job is to keep the roads open with a gigantic snowplow, a beast of a machine that could easily have been used in Mad Max: Fury Road. No plow, no travel in the winter. Watching him clear the roads like an Amtrak train, you can see why he’s held in such high esteem.
Unfortunately, his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson), who works as a baggage handler at a local airport, gets mixed up in a drug transport and is killed by an overdose of heroin.
This sends Nels and his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), into a tailspin. She leaves him and Nels is so distraught that he plans to commit suicide. The gun is in his mouth when he meets Kyle’s bloodied and beaten coworker, who informs him that Kyle was injected and killed by a local drug dealer named Speedo (Michael Eklund).
For Nels, his mission is crystalized: Kill the drug dealers who killed his son. What he has yet to learn is just how long that list is. There’s Viking (Tom Bateman) and his crew, White Bull (Tom Jackson) and his crew, and a whole bushel of hangers on.
When Nels starts his vigilante cleanup, he ignites a drug war that stretches for 200 miles east all the way to Denver. By the end of the film, so many people die, there’s barely enough screen space to list all their epitaphs.
Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin are using the drug action genre as both a method and a message. They manage the pieces as if on an oversized chessboard. Even if the plot sometimes fills with traffic, the producers successfully peel numerous layers off the absurdity of human behavior — from tribalism to greed, from parenthood to torture, and everything in between.
Neeson’s usual sober vigilantism from films like Taken gets a comedic twist that is subtle and satiric. You must wonder if he’s enjoying making fun of himself. For a man who plays the part of a no-nonsense plowman, he’s funny as hell as he continues to unwind the string and find yet more villains to chase, all with colorful nicknames.
And then there’s law enforcement, the sardonic personality of Chief John “Gip” Gipsky (John Doman) contrasted with the youthful energy of his protégé, Officer Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum). Minor characters, but necessary as observers who add insight to this burgeoning human catastrophe. It’s all in the timing, and Moland has his Norwegian humor down to an art.
Cold Pursuit is probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have a love for comedic absurdity, satire and guns blazing, I think you might get a kick out of this little piece of observation couched as a gangland shoot out.
After all, it’s not every day that a snowplow driver, drug lords and Native Americans (also drug lords) find themselves on the same screen together. Buried under all that snow is enough humor to keep you laughing, even if it does come with flying powder, bullets and a dash of Scandinavian straight face, as in, “I dare you not to smile.”