The new thriller from Liam Neeson has drugs, violence, quirky characters and a ski town. But it’s also a story we’ve seen before.
This is a slow time of year for movies. But there’s one thing you can count on—another appearance by Liam Neeson—Hollywood’s favorite late-middle-age action hero.
His latest, “Cold Pursuit” is a remake of a Norwegian movie made in 2014—and in fact, has the same director, Hans Petter Moland. Though the new version was shot in Canada, the setting is a Colorado ski resort town, named Kehoe, where Neeson’s character Nels Coxman, is the community’s quiet but essential man.
Every winter, the mountain pass between the village and Denver is closed off by a glacier of snow. Coxman, the town’s snowplow driver, is the guy who carves a narrow, umbilical-cord-like road through the powder to link them to civilization.
His contented life is upended when his son is accidentally implicated in a drug rip-off, is kidnapped, and found dead later from a heroin overdose.
Yep, Neeson’s back as a vengeful parent using his particular set of skills—well actually, he finds out he’s just pretty good at tracking down and killing drug dealers throwing away their coke shipments and disposing of the bodies, like a garbage run, by throwing them down a gorge into a nearby river.
There’s hint the movie might go somber, as Neeson’s wife (played by Laura Dern) leaves him, and we wonder if he will become an empty shell just living for vengeance.
Instead the movie becomes a mix of Tarantino, the Coen Brothers and Guy Ritchie—a morbidly funny crime buffet.
As Neeson works his way up the criminal food chain, he starts disrupting operations for Denver’s top drug lord, nicknamed Viking (played by Tom Bateman.) Viking is a nasty, divorced-dad Yuppie a cross between Al Capone and a regular at Whole Foods, who tells his son that all of life’s lessons can be found in “Lord of the Flies”. The nicest thing you can say about him is he lets the kid eat Fruity Pebbles.
As Viking starts wondering why his henchmen are disappearing, he directs his suspicion at the local Native American drug gang, who hold the franchise around Kehoe (they are also wild and violent, but much more sympathetic.)
Neeson, without realizing it, becomes the spark that sets off a chain reaction of threats, misunderstandings, kidnappings, gun battles, and often-ironic killings. (Every time a character is bumped off, the occasion is marked by a black screen and a tombstone-like inscription.)
These are definitely New-Wave gangsters. They know pop culture, are paired up with eccentric, strong women, listen to cheesy music, and tend to have weird, pointless conversations.
The two cops in Kehoe are much the same. Emmy Rossum (as a smart young rookie—you might say a young Marge Gunderson) is burdened with an apathetic male partner who says people only want to do three things in a ski town—ski, have sex, and get high.
One major item is missing. While Tarantino or the Coens would load up this story with high-voltage actors, the unknown performers here are relatively colorless. They don’t match the charisma of Neeson who literally proves in this movie he can sound dramatic while reading an industry trade magazine about plows.
Just about the only actor who pairs up well with the star is Nicholas Holmes as Viking’s son, who proves to be a smart, likable kid.
In the end, I can warm up to “Cold Pursuit”—enough to give it three and a half out of five stars. The Friday Film Review is sponsored by Park City Film