Friday 8 February 2019

Cold Pursuit (UK/Norway/Canada/USA 2019: Dir Hans Petter Moland)

The controversy of Liam Neeson's comments during a press interview for Cold Pursuit - wanting to randomly revenge attack a black man (any black man) following the rape of a friend - have threatened to overshadow any objective assessment of the film. But let's have a go, shall we?

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a snow plough driver in the remote and snowy resort town of Kehoe in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. His job is vital to clear routes for drivers to get through town - the white stuff comes thick and fast in this part of the country - and when we first meet him he's being recognised by the people of Kehoe as "Citizen of the Year." He lives in a lodge on the outskirts of town with his wife Grace (Laura Dern) and son Kyle (Micheál Richardson), a cargo loader at the nearby airport. Kehoe's cosiness, nestled in the bowl of the majestic Rockies, seems idyllic.

But this seemingly happy setup is about to be disrupted. Kyle is abducted and killed by some heavies from a local drug firm for his part in a cocaine boost. Nels and Grace are understandably distraught - although Nels channels his grief into anger and a need to hunt down the people responsible for murdering his son ("Kyle wasn't a druggie," he maintains) which costs him his marriage and, almost, his sanity. His revenge is made more difficult as the drug ring in the town is widespread and complex, frustrating Nels' attempts to work his way to Mr Big, but raising the body count exponentially as he does so.

A sign that we're not in the usual Neeson action movie territory comes about fifteen minutes or so into Moland's film, curiously a sort of remake of the director's own 2014 flick In Order of Disappearance aka Kraftidioten. Nels and Grace are at the mortuary waiting to identify Kyle's body. The slab is gradually raised, manually, the body still out of camera view. The noisy cranking continues, far longer than is expected, as Neeson and Dern stand around awkwardly. It's a moment of comedy which tonally takes Cold Pursuit in a different direction than expected. I wish I could write that this was a good thing.

What follows is part Coen Brothers shtick - but without the warmth and depth of their work - part Elmore Leonard plotting, part Martin McDonagh 'baddies with gags' movie - and all increasingly awful. Characterisation is paper thin here. Drug baron Trevor Calcote aka 'Viking' (Tom Bateman) is a smiling rich boy with an annoying son (who gets 'fathered' by Neeson in the film's climax) and an offensively depicted ex wife straight out of the 'Taming of the Shrew' handbook; Nels' brother, retired drug pusher Brock, seems only to have been included to set up a mistaken identity plot development and to have some scenes with his laughably stereotypical bossy Asian wife Ahn (Elizabeth Thai); and Laura Dern's Grace literally disappears, which is a wise choice for an actress who's worth more than this, leaving Nels to mutter a throwaway line about her leaving him by way of explaining her absence. Neeson himself looks dazed throughout much of the movie, and rather knackered (one character describes him as a "tired old man" and the audience, looking on at an actor who has confirmed that he's to bring an end to this type of role, nods in agreement).

Some plot irrelevance about legal jurisdiction - the drug problem extends between the fictional Kehoe and the real life Denver - allows the introduction of two Colorado police officers Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) and John Gipsky (John Doman) who don't really seem to do anything much except outline the limits of community policing, and a rival drug gang of first nation American Indians included only to set up a turf war subplot.

Cold Pursuit is a movie that does everything wrong, from the casual misogyny and racism, to the awkward humour and bursts of violence which are neither redemptive or thrilling. It's the the kind of film that soundtracks the murder of a drug runner called Santa (all the baddies have 'amusing' nicknames) with '2000 Miles' by The Pretenders; features two cops who are revealed to be gay in a short scene entirely designed for cheap laughs; an includes a sequence in a cab where an Indian taxi driver changes the radio channel to Aqua's 'Barbie Girl.' Oh my aching sides. Just awful.

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