COLD PURSUIT: Dragging Featured

Liam Neeson’s recent admissions are unquestionably stunning and disconcerting. That, after the sexual assault of a friend, he roamed the streets looking for a black man — seemingly any black man — to attack in retribution should bring anyone and everyone up short. Moreover that they come up in a junket for  COLD PURSUIT only increases its unnerving nature. Junkets simpply will never be the best way to engage in confessions this dark and thorny.

Having said that, I do wonder if we might have been on the precipice of a truly interesting conversation. Could we have discussed implicit racism and how it gives white men permission to perform violent acts against minorities? I don’t know. I do know that, instead, it devolved into jokes about, “whoa man, keep it to yourself.”

Neeson’s assertion that he realized it was wrong to do is vague enough to demand deeper probing. This makes the jokes and ironic distancing all the more frustrating. It remains unclear if he felt it wrong to engage in vigilante violence, racially motivated violence, or some combination therein. I cannot help but bemoan the lost opportunity of a bad statement that could have led to a deeper conversation.

We are a country at once choked by deep racial divides and a country that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge nevermind investigate those divides. This would have been a very odd way to back into such a conversation, but how many opportunities can we get?

Does COLD PURSUIT Therefore Need a Trigger Warning?

Now, does anything of the above get mirrored in this film? Should viewers be prepared to be reminded of Neeson’s hopefully one time only desire to hurt or kill a random black man?

Only the revenge aspect, thankfully. Neeson’s character does attack, pummel, and kill several people but they are all white men. Some people of color do die, but they are killed by individuals obviously designated as the “bad guys.” Do not feel at all obligated to go see the movie. However, if the fear that it may reflect Neeson’s statements is holding you back, know it isn’t there. You are not going to see a Neeson character who acts as a mirror to that attitude or that moment in his life.

COLD PURSUIT: Nelson Coxman
Liam Neeson has a job to do…clearing snow. Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

The Idea Behind COLD PURSUIT

Plowman Nelson Coxman (Liam Neeson) shook forth from his career criminal father and brother (William Forsyth) and is about to be named Citizen of the Year of Kehoe, a small Colorado town north of Denver. As he and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) are enjoying dinner in his honor, their son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) has, seemingly randomly, been targeted by a group of criminals in the locker room at his job. His co-worker Dante (Wesley MacInnes) escapes, but the criminals give Kyle a fatal dose of heroin and dump him at an outdoor café the next morning.

Nels cannot believe that his son overdosed while Grace takes it as evidence that they, as parents, did not really know their son and thus failed him. It destroys their marriage. The Citizen of the Year can feel it all slipping away and prepares to end his own life when a badly beaten Dante finds him and reveals the truth of Kyle’s death.

From there, Nelson finds new purpose. He abandons the plan of suicide for outright homicide, killing his way up the ladder towards the crime boss known as the Viking (Tom Bateman). His plan, however, sparks a gang war between Viking’s team and a Native American cartel led by White Bull. This, of course, forces Kehoe’s limited police force — as represented by officers John Gipsky (John Doman) and Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) — into the situation as well. Any one side could stop it by just abandoning their homicidal impulses, but none of them seem willing as the climax builds.

COLD PURSUIT: Nelson and Grace
Liam Neeson and Laura Dern identify their son at the morgue in COLD PURSUIT. Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Writing COLD PURSUIT

I was a bad critic and failed to get to the initial foreign language film COLD PURSUIT remakes — also directed by Hans Petter Moland. Thus, I cannot compare Frank Baldwin’s script to the Kim Fupz Aakeson original.

On its own, however, it pulses with a seriously dark vein of bone-dry humor. There is violence here to be sure. Still the script is far more dedicated to establishing its hushed muffled tone and smuggling in some wonderfully sly bits of humor. I especially liked the bizarre, twisted grandfather-grandson relationship Nelson develops with the Viking’s son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes) whom he has abducted. It is all cuddling up while reading from plowing industry catalogs and tooling around in snow removal machines.

After almost exactly 10 years since TAKEN’s release, COLD PURSUIT’s take on Liam Neeson-beats-up-a-bunch-of-people subgenre is a wonderful subversion of the formula.

COLD PURSUIT: The Viking and the Citizen of the Year
Tom Bateman and Liam Neeson gaze into one another’s eyes in a scene from COLD PURSUIT. Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Casting The Leads of COLD PURSUIT

Neeson, wisely, plays it largely straight enhancing the humor swirling around him. He does, however, let loose a laugh at one point that is very reminiscent of his DARKMAN manic cackle, and it is a wonderful moment. When was the last time Neeson got to have fun on-screen in a movie, LOVE, ACTUALLY?

Tom Bateman seems to have finally found the character he meant to portray in THE BODY last year. Psychotic, quirky, and strangely charming, his health nut drug kingpin The Viking has a spiky energy. It works especially nicely playing off Neeson’s beaten down flat affect.

Tom Jackson as White Bull, the third corner of this hate triangle, subverts the noble Native trope as a deadpan crime lord who embraces his people’s traditions.

COLD PURSUIT: White Bull
Tom Jackson takes aim during a scene from COLD PURSUIT. Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Casting the Rest of the Callsheet

There are so many solid supporting players here. This makes the way the movie uses Laura Dern so incredibly disappointing. Save for the warmth she brings to a cufflinks scene during their last night of happiness and a mirror scene days later, the script has almost nothing for her to do. That’s difficult to ignore.

I would be tempted to say that this movie is just bad on women, except for Rossum’s thrill-seeking officer. Rossum does strong work with both her lust for big city kinds of cases and her final realization at the horror those investigations really offer. I look forward to what she does when she finally closes the door on SHAMELESS this year.

Her partner, a laconic and odd John Doman, works as her weird surrogate dad. It ends up elevating his partnership with Rossum to more than just the clueless cop duo.

William Forsyth brings dignity to Nelson’s retired criminal brother. The scene where he refuses to grovel before Viking is a delightful bit of hard-boiled dialogue and performance.

There are plenty of other great small performances amongst the cadre of henchmen, but I have to single out Domenick Lombardozzi’s Mustang. As Viking’s right hand, he brings such warmth to how he interacts with Ryan and his secret lover and fellow henchman Dexter (Benjamin Hollingsworth). Lombardozzi is definitely “one of those guys” you recognize but don’t know where from. Still, in a long career, I think this may be as good as he has ever been.

COLD PURSUIT: Dana
Emmy Rossum has had about enough of your guff in a scene from COLD PURSUIT. Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Filming COLD PURSUIT

I am utterly unfamiliar with Moland’s work as I believe all of them are foreign films. However, it is clear he has a good idea. He makes strong use of the wide angle lenses to establish Kehoe’s snow buried reality. Additionally, the lens reveals the scope of Coxman’s means of disposing of his victim’s bodies. Thus, those shots become a metaphor for how far gone he is. He also uses it ironically to remind us how close “civilization” — Denver in this case — sits to Kehoe. More importantly, it shows how little protection that short distance offers the small town. The city’s protections from our more savage selves stand seemingly so close. Yet none of it stops its small-town neighbor from going primitive and blood soaked.

COLD PURSUIT: Nelson with gun
Liam Neeson wants to show you his new firearm in COLD PURSUIT. Image Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

That’s a Wrap!

Who knows if PURSUIT would’ve caught on even without those underexplained statements of a desire to commit racial violence. As it stands in this reality though, it seems destined to quietly slip out of theatres.

From a purely creative and aesthetic perspective, that’s a shame. Easily the best film of the Neeson-revenge subgenre, including TAKEN,  this could have gone differently. Perhaps if it starred someone who could have more clearly articulated his past history of implicit racism and rage. Or, even better, a star without that history at all.

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