Cold Pursuit is a black comedy for gray winter days
The cold, snowy winter day that I saw Cold Pursuit on was the perfect day to see Cold Pursuit. I forgot to bring my gloves on the way to the theater, so it drove me nuts that Liam Neeson’s gigantic hands seem impervious to cold.
Cold Pursuit is definitely one of the snowiest movies ever made. Its setting and atmosphere are the dead of winter; everything is cold and the scenery is incredible but deadly. Given that, it isn’t as nature-centric as you might think. More JohnWick than Wind River. Cold Pursuitis a pretty weird, funny, violent ski resort Western.
Nels Coxman (Neeson) is a snow plow operator who keeps a vital stretch of highway clear and open in a ski resort town near Denver. He is tall, strong, quiet, and kind of boring. That is not completely a criticism; he is good, he’s just does not get a whole lot to do. At some points his stoic and stern performance reminds me of Qui-Gon Jinn from The Phantom Menace. I guess that is what you hire him for. When he emotes intensely you feel it, but his line delivery and acting are more or less what you would expect from Liam Neeson. The movie’s early minutes show him winning the town’s Citizen of The Year Award, which is silly and ridiculous. He is tall and strong and drives a big snow plan and everyone likes him.
His son (Micheál Richardson) works at the local airport and gets caught up with some bad company and drugs. He is killed in a pretty disturbing manner and we get the first “death card” of the movie. After each death, the deceased’s name, nickname and a symbol is presented on screen for a few moments. This gag gets increasingly funny as the movie progresses, as the body count is very high.
The supporting cast is pretty stacked. Laura Dern, my number 1 favorite actress (who should be starring in season 9 of the late great Enlightened) is woefully underused. She is Neeson’s sad, quiet wife who deals with her grief by leaving the movie and hopefully starring in another movie that actually makes use of her talents.
Emmy Rossum plays a smart cop who realizes a bunch of crazy shit is going on in the town. The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi and John Doman play a henchmen and a cop, respectively. Lombardozzi gets some interesting stuff to do involving his character’s secret crime henchmen romance, which is a nice little touch from the movie that ultimately does not go very far. Tom Bateman rants, raves and acts like a slimy worm the entire movie. His villain is sometimes fun and sometimes just a gross idiot who you can’t wait to see get what’s coming.
On the other side of the gang war Nels Coxman is a group of Native American men. Unlike the bad guys Neeson is after, they are compelling and likeable. There are points raised about white men dealing drugs on Indigenous land and well, it’s hard to argue with. The film is definitely on their side along with Neeson as the circles start to close in on the characters and factions.
George Fenton’s score is varied and it often sounds like it is for a much lighter, less violent movie, which adds to the humor, intentionally or not. In the end, totally fits the film, and it would be good to listen to even without the film.
The visuals are excellent, using the sweeping scenery of the Rockies to its advantage. One repeated frame shows us the huge highway leading into Denver from a couple miles off, and it never gets old. There are many gorgeous shots of mountains, distant towns, and endless snow. The interiors of the many houses the film is shot in are all well dressed. When the rival Native American gang gets involved, they are headquarted in a massive, artifact and art filled church. It looks great, as does most of the movie. \
Unlike Taken and The Commuter, Cold Pursuit is weird and less concerned with macho action than showing us who these characters actually are, which makes it superior to Neeson’s other recent action films. It shares a lot of DNA with In Bruges and Goodfellas in this regard. The senseless gang war that claims a couple dozen lives tries for tragic but actually ends up bring pretty funny in the film. The last gag in the movie is extremely violent, and a real weird note to end on. But on the other hands, there is some real nuance in this movie that I did not expect. Not all of the jokes or drama land, but a good amount of them do. It’s a fun action/black comedy thriller for the dead of winter, about many things including the dead of winter. If you enjoy Tarantino movies or shows like Justified you are in for a good time.
Cold Pursuit opens today in Philly theaters.