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Review: Cold Pursuit

February 8, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a mild-mannered snowplow driver who, near the beginning of Cold Pursuit, is named “Citizen of the Year” in Kehoe, the fictional Colorado ski town where the film’s action unfolds.

When his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) is killed by a brutal drug cartel, Nels seeks revenge, and transforms himself into a skillful assassin. Armed with a hunting rifle that has the barrel and butt sawed off, he starts picking off the gang members one by one, efficiently working his way towards their gleefully sociopathic leader Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman, doing his best impersonation of Christian Bale in American Psycho).

But Viking blames the killings on a rival Native American gang led by White Bull (Tom Jackson), and decides to get vengeance of his own against them. This sets in motion a chain of circumstances that ends up igniting a brutal turf war encompassing all three men, that threatens to take everyone around them down as well. Complicating matters further is the presence of Viking’s own son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), a sensitive young boy who ends up caught in the middle.

Directed by Hans Peter Moland, remaking his own 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, Cold Pursuit is a consistently entertaining film that also strikes an odd tone that makes it hard to fully pin down. At times it seems like we are watching a stone-faced parody of a “Liam Neeson gets revenge” movie, as the actor scowls his way through the sort of role that has come to define his career, delivering the film’s often laughable dialogue with his trademark growl.

It’s hard to tell at first if we are supposed to be taking this seriously or not, but we quickly come to realize that this clash of tones is intentional, as Moland works to establish a darkly comic tone that is marked with moments of absurdity in order to help drive home the film’s larger point about the futility of violence. As the film goes along, it reveals itself to be much cleverer than it initially appears, with a certain level of self-awareness that makes it feel fresh within the revenge thriller genre.

The film unfolds with grandiose themes of fathers and sons, and how every act of violence leads to another in a vicious cycle of vengeance that has been going on for generations and threatens to keep spinning for many more. Every death is followed by a black title card noting the deceased character’s name, marked with either a cross or other religious symbol, and the mock solemnity of this stylistic choice helps illustrate the film’s overarching theme that violence is ultimately pointless because it only begets more violence.

Like a pulpy crime novel, Cold Pursuit draws us into its absorbing world of drug dealers and men seeking revenge, unfolding like a cross between the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Elmore Leonard, fuelled by a distinctly dark Scandinavian sense of humour. The film uses wicked, pitch black comedy to heighten the almost farcical nature of its premise, before culminating with a bloody and wildly over the top shootout that brings things to a natural boiling point and gives genre fans exactly what they want, while heavily embracing the comic absurdity of it all.

If you can appreciate a good dark comedy disguised as a typical revenge thriller, then Cold Pursuit offers a lot of twisted pleasures in its satirical portrayal of the never ending cycles of violence that can be born out of one man’s search for vengeance.

Cold Pursuit is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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