With the wintry weather we are receiving Cold Pursuit should be the perfect movie to see on a snowy February day. Alas, this is one of the lesser Liam Neeson action vehicles. Neeson who has made a very lucrative career since Taken (2009) delivering these action-packed revenge pictures over the past decade has been pretty consistent at providing testosterone induced entertainment the way Clint Eastwood had in the previous century. Unfortunately, Cold Pursuit will go down as the one where it tried to be lighthearted and more humorous than his other serious action pictures, and it could have worked if the action, acting, and the plot made more sense.
The opening shot is of snow on the ground with a quote by Oscar Wilde about happiness. Perhaps that is the director giving us a clue that Cold Pursuit is going to try and make us happy and smile as we watch people meet their demise in creative ways. This certainly is not a dour movie like other revenge thrillers. The next shots are of a giant plow going through the snow in an isolated, barren landscape. We then see Liam Neeson as the plow driver. He goes home and we meet his wife played by Laura Dern, a talented actress sadly underused in this role. He is about to get honored as the ‘Citizen of the Year’ in Kehoe, Colorado, a ski town a few hours away from Denver. We meet his son and right away his son gets killed for reasons that will be revealed to the audience later. Thus setting Liam Neeson off on his violent yet oddly comedic path to revenge. It is also a creative path as Neeson uses the heavy machinery at his disposal for some far fetched and unnecessary but cool looking moments much to dispatch some bad guys.
The funny moments at inappropriate times lighten the mood in Cold Pursuit to the point that this film has a very lighthearted tone of violence and death. It does not take itself too seriously but at the same time feels that it should. The action-comedy balance seems off from the way the Coen Brothers or filmmakers more talented at this delicate balancing act could have succeeded. Cold Pursuit is advertised as a serious thriller and some parts feel they should be more serious while the humor strikes the right nerve in some areas, you can almost hear the crickets when the laughs miss the mark and veer into making the scene awkward.
Neeson systematically starts killing off everyone involved in his son’s murder. There is little to no explanation for how he was able to find them nor does the audience clearly know how they are involved or how Neeson found out about their association with a Denver drug kingpin. The villains in Cold Pursuit, especially the main one are unconvincing, unimpressive, and non-threatening. It was as if the producers went expensive when casting the righteous characters having Laura Dern as Neeson’s wife and Emmy Rossum as a local police officer, but they went really cheap on the bad guys. This has been a problem with movies in general for a number of years now. There are not any really great villains in movies anymore. There has not been a truly memorable antagonist since Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). Now villains in a lot of movies feel like a dime a dozen. Producers must feel like audiences do not care because it is as if we know they are going to die anyway. The snowy setting for Cold Pursuit made me think of the movie Cliffhanger where Stallone went up against John Lithgow who went above and beyond and created an incredibly vile and cruel villain. Lithgow made you hate his character thus making Cliffhanger better and more memorable that it would have been if a lesser actor was in that role, or if the actor was only giving a desultory effort.
The structure of the film itself is noteworthy where they acknowledge each character that dies and that actually ties into the ending credits in a clever way. The main aspect that audiences will remember and that makes Cold Pursuit stand out is the humor. I found the humor to create an inconsistent and disjointed tone for the movie. The film has a lot of slow parts that carry on the plot. If Liam Neeson is not killing somebody or there is not an obvious joke, Cold Pursuit is rather dull just going through the motions. It has slow parts mixed with violence, mixed with humor, but those ingredients do not add up to a delicious revenge dish best served cold as the Klingons would say. The movie does end with the biggest laugh and the final shot is a real knee slapper even though it is completely unnecessary to the rest of the film.
Skip Cold Pursuit and check out The Commuter. Liam Neeson’s action thriller from last January. He has made a nice career for himself with these macho action movies coming out each winter with most of them being fun time killers.
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