Synopsis: Snowplow driver goes on a righteous killing spree.
There appears to be no end in sight to Liam Neeson’s second act as an aged action hero. Formerly he starred in serious films like Michael Collins and Gangs of New York. The critical highlight of his career was an academy award nomination for Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust film Schindler’s List (1993). He was also excellent as Aslan the messiah-lion in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005).
Neeson moved on to playing tough guys on valorous rescue missions in the Taken series. Whether he’s an everyman or an ex-agent, circumstances arise where he has to rescue person(s) using his meaty fists and/or firearms. And whether he’s on a plane, train or in a supermarket there will be a point where he grabs some innocent bystander by their shirt and demands to know –in a watered down Irish accent– where his daughter/ the bomb/ the hostage is hidden.
Cold Pursuit is the latest in Neeson’s action oeuvre. The film is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian film Kraftidioten starring Stellan Skarsgard as a snowplow driver bent on vengeance after drug dealers kill his son. The remake has the same director, Hans Petter Moland, and casts Neeson in the main role. There are some changes… the lead character’s name is changed from Nils to Nels. For some reason. The Denver area replaces Norway, setting the story in the fictional ski town of Kehoe, Colorado. And the Serbian bad guys are swapped out for Native American drug dealers, bringing questionable attention to the region’s Ute tribe.
It’s gotten to the point that Neeson’s earnest hero characters inspire laughter and Nils –excuse me, Nels — doesn’t disappoint. (We’ll just call him Neeson.) So that the audience knows that Neeson is a good guy, the film begins with him receiving the town’s Citizen of the Year award. The film considers this a get-out-of-jail-free card for his impending killing spree. Neeson humbly accepts the award and demurs that he’s just dong his job: clearing the streets of snow so that his fellow citizens can go about their business. His wife, played by Laura Dern, beams at him from the crowd. It’s plain to see that he just wants to plow– not kill — but fate has other plans for our hero. Or is he an anti-hero?
The action gets rolling when Neeson’s son, played by his IRL son Michael Richardson (his surname is a nod to his mother, the late actress Natasha Richardson), dies of a drug overdose. Neeson doesn’t buy it, intoning “Kyle’s not a druggie.” This prompts his wife to pummel him for some reason. Later, at home, she upbraids him for not knowing their son’s favorite song. Neeson tells her they mostly talked about hunting. Now she goes into a rage, which I think was unfair because she didn’t know Kyle’s favorite song either.
If your only reason for going to Cold Pursuit is because you are Laura Dern’s biggest fan, skip this movie and re-watch Big Little Lies, because the filmmakers cut a check just big enough to cover about ten minutes worth of Ms. Dern’s time. But without a wife, Neeson can spend more time blitzing around in his giant snowplow looking for his son’s killers. Btw, Neeson has a big emporium of snowplows at his business, but appears to be its only employee.
Violent AARP members will enjoy seeing Neeson pummel the hell out of various millennial drug dealers and enforcers. One gang member is so recalcitrant that Neeson has to take a breather from repeatedly punching the prone guy in the face. When the lowlife manages to laugh that Neeson’s a geezer, Neeson shoots him to death. Who’s laughing now?
There’s a running joke that each time a gang member is killed, the screen flashes whatever his ludicrous nickname is on a tombstone. You will have to see for yourself whether Neeson uses one of his many snowplows to dispatch Speedo, Limbo, Mustang or the Eskimo.
The top drug lord goes by the name of Viking. Viking looks like a prosperous young businessman, decked out in pricey suits, ordering his cronies about in his mansion. Viking has excellent manners, which makes it all the more chilling when he behaves like the psycho he is. Besides having business problems, what with his dealers getting picked off, he is also going through a nasty divorce. He doesn’t want his ex to have custody of their young son. And why should she? He’s the one who has a fulltime nanny for the kid. The nanny also happens to be a hitman.
Viking is not as smart as he thinks. While Neeson works round the clock clearing the roadways and hurling bodies into ravines, stupid Viking thinks his rivals, the Native American drug gang run by White Bull (Tom Jackson) are killing his dealers. So he starts his own killing spree. With the small town’s population taking an obvious downturn the local police get involved. We only ever see two cops; a crusty old veteran who doesn’t want to get involved, aka do his job, and an eager young recruit played by Emmy Rossum. If the movie had cut all of their scenes it wouldn’t matter in the slightest. Their only function is to tell the audience that a big, bad Denver drug lord sells in their town. Which we already know because we keep seeing shots of the Mile High City before they cut to Viking.
Cold Pursuit succeeds as a dumb action movie and fails as a black comedy. As to whether Neeson’s character is a hero or anti-hero? Well, since he doesn’t even approach the cops about his suspicions that his son was murdered before he starts killing off the gang members, I would say anti-hero. Then again when he meets up with Viking’s kid, he’s a nice guy. And Movie Loon wouldn’t expect any less from Kehoe’s Citizen of the Year.