Director: Hans Petter Moland
Writers: Frank Baldwin, based on the movie written by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Composer: George Fenton
Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
When it comes to seeing aging actor, Liam Neeson, in an action film, the novelty has certainly worn off. While his role in Taken was a revelation, there have been many subsequent films that have tried to exploit Neeson’s new typecast, though success has been mixed. The Taken sequels did not live up to their hype, while other movies have ranged from mediocre (A Walk Among the Tombstones) to just plain bad (The Commuter).
Now when a film like Cold Pursuit rolls out seemingly every year, there’s a collective sigh emitted amongst audiences. Are we going to see anything new here? Is this yet another film trying to capitalize on Taken’s success?
Violence/Scary Images: This movie contains a high death count (over twenty). Lots of gun violence, where sometimes the bullet hits are seen on screen or at least the resulting blood splatter. There are shootouts with multiple casualties. There are numerous assaults, where a person’s bloodied and bruised face does not shy away from the camera. There is one long shot of a fight resulting in strangulation. Multiple bodies are disposed of unceremoniously, either dumped over the side of a cliff or left out on display to send a message. A bloodied decapitated head is picked up and later dropped by accident, rolling around on the floor.
There are menacing car chase sequences where one driver desires to kill another. A paraglider accidentally hits the front of a snowplow and gets sucked into its vents, with blood and the parachute shooting out like confetti out the back. There is a lengthy scene in a morgue where a corpse is slowly winched upwards. The corpse of a deer is seen in a freezer. Multiple taxidermized animals are seen. Multiple times throughout the film a gun is placed right next to someone’s head, mostly by someone else, though there is one instance of attempted suicide (they don’t pull the trigger). A man attempts to slap a woman, but she retaliates by violently grabbing his genitalia. There is a close up on dog poop.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped a handful of times, along with the s-word (around 10 times), n-word, and other descriptions for human anatomy. There is frequent usage of milder language (stupid, snot-nosed kid, etc). God’s name is used in vain a handful of times. There is a reservation joke referring to Native Americans and one that uses the word “Indian” in a racist manner. Obscene hand gestures are seen.
Drug/Alcohol References: The entire film revolves around two drug cartels. The shipment and transport of cocaine are frequently discussed. Massive bags of white powder are inspected and cut open. There is a close-up shot of a heroin injection. Multiple characters drink alcohol throughout the movie. Characters are seen smoking; teens are seen smoking marijuana cigarettes.
Sexual Content: A man speaks at length about how he likes to strip naked in hotel rooms and wait for the cleaning maid to come in, propositioning her with $20. Later in the film, we see this scenario play out, where we see a man lying naked on a bed, with the note covering his genitals. Two men passionately kiss each other, establishing a gay relationship. A man takes a bath – we see the upper thigh and bare chest. A man walks around wearing a towel. A woman wearing tight-fitting clothing dances sexually in front of a window.
There are a number of sexually charged conversations. A man tries to hit on a woman over the radio, wanting to further their relationship in exchange for crucial evidence. There is talk of oral sex. A man gives advice to another about having casual sex with waitresses. There are some jokes revolving around the name Coxman.
Spiritual Content: A crucifix is shown occasionally when a character dies.
Other Negative Content: The movie displays some police officers as apathetic in regards to maintaining order and justice. A child is kidnapped. A couple is undergoing a divorce. There are many derogatory comments toward women.
Positive Content: The film displays the absurdity and unexpected results that vengeful vigilante justice can bring.
Cold Pursuit is a classy crime thriller that merges Fargo’s dark comedic elements with Wind River’s icily blunt perspective on race relations. It’s the movie’s tone that sets it apart from other films in the genre–deaths are delivered with quirky heft. Yet it’s also the movie’s greatest weakness as its mood dips and wanes during its runtime, leaving a matted mess of half-woven themes and poorly timed jokes in-between its sophisticated presentation.
Liam Neeson plays Nels Coxman, local snowplow operator and citizen of the year at the ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado. In the dead of winter, his son is mistakenly abducted and murdered, with his death staged to look like a drug overdose. With the police ruling his death an accident, Coxman is left with no choice but to conduct his own investigation and vengeful justice system. What follows is an oddly humorous snowball effect. Coxman kills his way up the local drug gang ladder. All the while, the cartel are left blaming every enemy… except for the newfound murderous citizen of the year who has no idea how the shady side of town operates.
It’s a simple premise told well combined with a witty script. The comedy is subtle, with the humor conveyed in the little details. It’s on display when Coxman fails to strangle a man, only to have to repeat the act in a panic. Or when the trope of slapping a disobedient wife goes horribly wrong as she dodges and retaliates in the worst possible way imaginable. Common occurrences in crime thrillers are upended in Cold Pursuit. Naturally one has to be just a little twisted to appreciate these moments of comedy.
Yet by far the cheekiest moment is also the movie’s classiest. A title card, signifying the deceased’s name, along with a symbol of their allegiance, follows every death that’s shown on screen. At first, it seems to pay a solemn reminder of the life that’s lost, while also chaptering the story’s structure. However, as the film progresses, it’s quickly spoofed as the bodies pile up, demonstrating the ridiculousness of every character’s actions.
This is the second time that director Hans Petter Moland has told this story. While Hollywood is no stranger to remakes, what makes Cold Pursuit unique is that Moland has decided to recast and reshoot his own movie, In Order of Disappearance. Some have reported that there is little difference between the two films in regards to cinematography, though Cold Pursuit focuses more on the side characters, of which there are a lot.
An entire side plot is dedicated to the warring Native American cartel lead by Tom Jackson. While their roles add some necessary thematic gravitas and complications to the script, it also muddies the message of the film. A simple revenge story is cut off by an analysis of Native American land ownership rights halfway through the movie. It is at this point where the film’s darkly comedic undercurrent begins to freeze, with some humorous moments falling through under the weight of the more serious plot elements.
It’s clear that Hans Petter Moland is aiming for a Quentin Tarantino vibe, though he never manages to rise to the occasion. The characters still feel too sparse and disconnected, unlike Tarantino’s tightly-wound plots. Tom Bateman’s role as drug lord Trevor feels as though it’s played for purely comedy; an over-the-top acting style that belongs in another movie compared to everyone else. It simply doesn’t gel with Tom Jackson and Liam Neeson’s more reserved, serious approach to their characters.
Ultimately Cold Pursuit takes a few risks by up-ending some of the classic tropes seen in the crime thriller genre, though not all of them pay off. Tonally it’s not a cohesive film, though there are many enjoyable moments. The violence is within the world of realism, though it’s as brutally cold as the movie’s title.
It distinguishes itself enough from others in the genre, so if you’re a fan of these types of stories, then it’s worth a look. However, there’s not enough thematic weight to justify the amount of violence on-screen should you take a more conservative approach to this type of content. Basically, if you’re questioning whether this film is up your alley, as you usually don’t watch this genre, then stop debating yourself–it’s not an extraordinary piece of cinema that’s worth pushing yourself past your comfort zone.
For everyone else that’s a sucker for crime thrillers, Cold Pursuit is not your average revenge flick. However, while it may not be worth the cost of a movie ticket as the silver screen adds little to the film’s presentation, if you see it listed on Netflix, give it a look; it’s still an entertaining watch despite its flaws.
+ Upends tropes typically seen in crime thrillers. + Dark comedy + Has a Quentin Tarantino vibe + Takes risks + Clever use of title cards
- Muddy message - Tonally confused - Some actors are too comedic when contrasted with more serious performances - Doesn't achieve the heights it desires
The Bottom Line
Cold Pursuit slips and slides awkwardly between comedy and thriller, though thankfully it finds its footing for the majority of its runtime. While it's ultimately an enjoyable watch, it's not extraordinary enough to demand a cinema screening. Worth a look, but it's fine to wait for streaming services.