10 years after Taken, Liam Neeson rarely does action anymore. You could argue that this was because his brand of action cinema grew stale and the films themselves were far too often either bad or just serviceable rather than amazing. Enter Cold Pursuit, a remake of a Norwegian film called In Order of Disappearance. The idea seems to be to take a Neeson family/revenge actioner and put it into a darkly comedic Coen-esque story. That concept kind of works, but it also makes for a bizarre and scatter-brained thriller that both entertained and baffled me.
In Colorado, Nelson Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a plough driver who lives with wife Grace (Laura Dern). One day, he is informed that his son has died of a drug overdose. Coxman immediately realises that this was a murder and goes on a revenge spree to try and find the person who did it, ultimately stumbling upon a large criminal organisation lead by Viking (Tom Bateman) and the start of a turf war between this organisation and one lead by Indigenous American drug lord White Bull (Tom Jackson). Elsewhere, a couple of police officers (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) investigate the crimes as they happen.
The film’s biggest issue is the plot structure. The first 30 minutes follow a pattern: Coxman finds, interrogates and kills a suspect then goes home whilst Viking interacts with his son and reacts to the death of a member of his gang; rinse and repeat about 4 times. Then the turf war plot takes over, with Coxman getting pushed to the side and his revenge motive being forgotten about. As a result of abandoning the simple, if repetitive set-up and focusing on a more complicated narrative, the second half ultimately drags. Finally, the plotline with the police is the definition of filler and should have been removed.
However, the reason why the film is not a failure is because, despite its flawed script, the tone is so strange and so deadpan that it is entertaining in its own way. There are a couple of entertaining running jokes, most of the humour does land and even certain jokes that don’t are at least so odd that they do get a reaction. The film is also incredibly unpredictable, as I did not know what bizarre thing was going to happen next. Finally, the plot does improve when it moves away from Coxman: it gets more complicated but also becomes more comprehensible and fleshed out in terms of storytelling and characterisation.
Neeson does a good job as always, handling certain moments of emotion very well, but he is saddled with the least charismatic and interesting character in the story. Laura Dern is also given a role so thankless that she should have just been written out. The main actor who really excels is Tom Bateman, who gives a charming and endearingly low-key performance. His raspy voice and odd characterisation, as well as his resemblance to Ben Shapiro/Joaquin Phoenix make for an enjoyably slimy character. Every other actor is given a strange and unique character to play and they do well with what they have, with William Forsythe as Coxman’s brother Wingman being quite good.
The direction really accentuates the tone, as every scene has a subtle yet strange and comical feel to it. The editing is strange, sometimes making scenes feel rushed and abrupt but other times feeling untrimmed enough to make me wish that the 118-minute running time was significantly shorter. As for the musical score, it is mostly absent, but when it comes in it is so quirky that you cannot help but laugh along with it.
Cold Pursuit is a mess, but an enjoyable one. The script is clumsy and overstuffed, but the tone and the supporting cast add a lot of enjoyment to the proceedings. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but it is such a strange experience that the film will probably be a love it or hate it for most audiences.