Film - Cold Pursuit

Ren Zelen heads off in hot pursuit of Cold Pursuit...

Director: Hans Petter Moland
Writers: (screenplay) Frank Baldwin, based on the movie 'Kraftidioten' written by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Starring: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe, Tom Jackson, Laura Dern, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, Arnold Pinnock, David O'Hara, Raoul Max Trujillo, Micheal Richardson, Nicholas Holmes

‘How does the man who drives the snowplough get to work in the morning?’

In Cold Pursuit, this knotty question remains unanswered. Some viewers also complain that they remain in the dark about the tone of the film. Perhaps it’s the grim Scandinavian sense of humour? The film is reminiscent of the weirdness of the Coen Brothers (Fargo obviously comes to mind) – those skilled exponents of Scandi-Minnesotan dark absurdity.

Hans Petter Moland directs this English-language remake of his 2014 Norwegian crime-thriller Kraftidioten (released as In Order of Disappearance). Liam Neeson plays Nels Coxman, ‘Citizen of the Year’ in the picturesque skiing town of Kehoe, Colorado. He operates the essential snowplough business which keeps the town functioning. Each day he pushes through the mass of accumulated snow to keep the roads passable for the townsfolk and the tourist skiers.

When he’s not at the garage where he keeps his snowploughs (how DOES he get there?) Nels lives in a cosy log-cabin in the mountains with wife Grace (Laura Dern). They have a much-loved, adult son Kyle (Micheál Richardson, Neeson’s real-life son with Natasha Richardson).

On the night the town is celebrating Nels’s ‘Citizen of the Year’ award, young Kyle, who works at the small local airport, is inexplicably abducted by a violent gang and given a lethal dose of heroin.

A film where a father seeks revenge against the gangsters that killed his son might look like just another Liam Neeson vehicle in the mould of Taken or Run All Night, where he is destined to become a killing machine, relentlessly pursuing vengeance and justice.

Although Cold Pursuit places the Neeson character centrally, the film is essentially an ensemble crime caper. When Nels starts to unravel the mystery of his son’s murder and begins his killing spree, working his way up the criminal ladder, he unwittingly ignites a turf war between ruthless, arrogant crime boss Trevor ‘Viking’ Calcote (Tom Bateman) and Native American antiquities dealer/cartel chief White Bull (Tom Jackson).

The sudden, suspicious deaths in the tranquil community also get the attention of eager new Police recruit Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum), much to the dismay of her decidedly easy-going partner, veteran cop John ‘Gip’ Gipsky (John Doman) who just wants a quiet life. 

I use the word crime ‘caper’ on purpose, because another aspect that distinguishes Cold Pursuit from other Neeson revenge flicks its thread of gallows humour. There is rarely a killing that isn’t tinged with some degree of absurdity or odd comedy. This mood is encapsulated in a scene where Nels and a bloodied drug dealer collapse in laughter in the midst of a vicious beating, because Nils is exhausted and wheezing from his brutal exertions upon his victim, and is almost as incapacitated as he is.

Perhaps it is this odd injection of humour that flummoxes some viewers as to the tone of the film. However, a Scandinavian director used to the struggles of a harsh winter climate seems comfortable with this juxtaposition – perhaps offering the notion that, in such dangerous and severe conditions, among the unrelenting dominance and majesty of Nature, if you let your guard down, Nature herself will kill you - assuming someone else doesn’t get to you first.

Strengthening the ‘Coen Brothers’ feel of the film is the presence of William Forsythe as Nels’s brother Brock ‘Wingman’ Coxman, a retired gangster enjoying the spoils of his crimes. These include Ahn, (Elizabeth Thai) a slight but bellicose Thai wife. (We may remember Forsythe as the younger brother to John Goodman in the Coen’s comedic masterpiece Raising Arizona). The ‘Wingman’ proves to be a useful source for Nels’s naive entry into the world of organized crime.

Tom Bateman’s turn as smarmy gangster ’Viking’, flips between the worst of un-self-aware modern narcissism and a ‘right-on’ trendy lifestyle. He’s a vegan and imposes unpalatable restrictions on the diet and upbringing of his clever young son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), rebuking his henchmen for sneaking treats into little Ryan’s school lunch.

Viking is extremely attentive to his intelligent son in as much as he sees him as an adjunct to himself, but doesn’t make the slightest effort to empathise with him. Viking’s beautiful Native American ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones) shares the parenting in a much more natural way. Each time she shows up, she coolly takes apart the pretentions of the petulant Viking, leaving him looking like the spoilt brat that he is.

In contrast to Bateman’s arrogant and entitled Viking, his rival in crime is Tom Jackson’s White Bull - the white-haired, venerable chief of a Native American gang. He made a deal with Viking’s father years ago, which he has faithfully adhered to, but when his son is killed during the escalating violence, he finds himself pitted against Viking for control of drug crime in Denver and Kehoe.

Apart from the revenge plot and thread of gallows humour, director Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin (adapting Kim Fupz Aakeson’s original script) craft a narrative about the rebounding consequences of violence, where the differing relationships between fathers and sons are the catalysts.

Viking lives in the shadow of his own father’s kingpin legacy, constantly trying to prove himself as an effective successor. He pays lip service to the ‘code amongst gangsters’ but typically for a narcissist, doesn’t consider it applies to himself.

Nels and White Bull both represent fathers dealing with tragedy, each trying to displace the grief caused by losing their sons in seeking a reckoning. Also, adding some substance to what might be just a strangely droll revenge tale, the action is placed in a cultural context, indicating the consequences when Native Americans have their land stolen and are then treated as strangers in their own land.

A poignant scene is when White Bull, a dealer in genuine antiquities, examines the Native American ‘souvenirs’ in a plush ski-resort hotel, and notes that they are fakes, made in China. Viking’s dismissal and underestimation of his opponents’ culture serves to highlight that lack of understanding.

The biggest disappointment of the film is the under-use of Laura Dern. She appears at the beginning of the film as Nels’s loving wife, she isolates herself in mourning the death of their son, then disappears. The role seems as bare as the fitting note her character leaves behind.

Likewise, the use of Emmy Rossum as Dash, the astute, young Kehoe detective. Her investigations create no real tension in the plot and barely have any purpose in the story except to have her wander into certain places at convenient times. The main function of the women in this film seems to be to be in trying to comprehend the actions of the men, deal with the various issues these men have, and then ultimately clean up the consequences of their violence.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2019 All rights reserved.

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Images - IMDb

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