In outline, you probably think you’ve seen Cold Pursuit already. Liam Neeson-takes-down-well-dressed-drug-dealers-to-avenge-the-death-of-his-son is a hackneyed premise that felt tired in 2009. But Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s remake of his own 2015 thriller In Order Of Disappearance hits all the beats of a Neeson revenge thriller — Big Liam shoots a baddie with a sawn-off sniper rifle in a bridal shop, splattering the white dresses in blood — but also has an interest in character quirks and jet- black whimsy that separates it from the pack. It doesn’t all work — especially as it enters the second half — but it has terrific fun with crime genre staples in a Grosse Pointe Blank-y kind of way.
If you want a one-man-army Liam Neeson movie, Cold Pursuit mostly delivers. Told that his son has died of a heroin overdose, pro snow plough driver Nels Coxman (the name becomes a joke) doesn’t believe it and starts at the bottom, working his way through low-level drug dealers trying to track his son’s murderers. As with the Norwegian original, Moland chalks up the deaths with a title card showing the name of the dead and a cutesy graphic. The violence flits from darkly comic to eye-wateringly brutal (shotgun butts to the face), but doesn’t break the spell or drama.
Cold Pursuit is steadfast in its refusal to treat its characters like Movie Tropes.
But you know you’re not watching a normal Liam Neeson picture when it opens with an Oscar Wilde quotation: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” While the witticism sums up Coxman, it also applies to the entire dramatis personae. The best thing about Cold Pursuit is its steadfast refusal to treat its characters like Movie Tropes. Gangsters engage in snowball fights before a shoot-out, cops (Emmy Rossum, John Doman) argue over past relationships and two henchmen may have developed feelings for each other. The best of the bunch is Tom Bateman’s Christian Grey-like drug lord The Viking. Saddled with joint custody of his son, he micromanages the kid’s diet, tells him to beat up bullies and chides him for not reading The Lord Of The Flies (“All the answers you need are in that book”). With the exception of Coxman’s wife (a wasted Laura Dern), Cold Pursuit invests in its people and is all the better for it.
Occasionally Moland becomes overly enamoured with his secondary characters — his focus on the battle between The Viking’s Crew and a Native American syndicate sidelines Coxman’s mission, dissipating momentum. Yet it redeems itself with a final act buddy-buddy relationship that adds a flicker of warmth in a cold, cold world. It’s a surprising note in a film full of them.