Cold Pursuit (****) shows benefit of foreign influence

Cold Pursuit – 2018

Director Hans Petter Moland
Screenplay Frank Baldwin based on In Order of Disappearance by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Starring Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, Laura Dern, Tom Jackson

The shame of how much one enjoys Liam Neeson’s revenge-based dark comedy is the fact that so many people were distracted by his promotional tour, they may just miss his best film in decades. In all fairness though, most of the people who protested Neeson’s ill-timed decision to tell the truth about his growth as a person are the kinds of folks who would have been offended by the film’s humor anyway.

A remake of the Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance, this story covers much of the same territory with some important differences. Neeson is Nels Coxman, a quiet snowplow driver in Kehoe Colorado. He’s just won “Citizen of the Year” because, apparently, there’s a lot of snow in that town and the citizens really thrive on the skiing. As he’s accepting the award, his life is being altered dramatically and horribly.

The next morning Nils and his wife Grace (Laura) discover their son is dead of a drug overdose. Conveniently the authorities do not believe Nils contention that Kyle was “not a druggie” and the couple begins to completely unravel.

As Nils contemplates oblivion, he is made aware that his suspicions are right and he begins the quickly efficient process of securing revenge. Smartly, the film does not present Neeson as a complete badass. It doesn’t dwell much on deep thoughts for a snow plow driver, either. There is a cleverness to the script that allows for Nils to be someone who follows the path smartly, if awkwardly. He doesn’t always make the right choices, and has some pretty glaring flaws.

His adversaries take form in the Denver-based drug cartel led by a weirdo named Viking (Bateman). His is the kind of “son of the actual great leader” trope that works best when that great leader is around to smack him around a bit. As it is, his arrogance and aggression is rewarded by the men who were loyal to his now deceased (off camera) father. Much of the film consists of everyone but Viking realizing how idiotic and full of shit will make things, but allowing it to happen anyway.

In a lesser film, this would have been a bigger problem. As it is, the bad decisions lead to some nice moments with a rival gang of Native Americans which lead to some of the best moments of the film. It’s in these moments that we find humor that would not be allowed had this film been birthed on this continent.

The treatment of the Ute’s is a mixture of respectful and whimsical. There is none of the bigotry of low expectations one has come to expect when modern American filmmakers feel they have to present Native Americans as proud warrior victims and little else. The freedom to show the Ute organization as individuals frees up many moments of genuinely unexpected humor that provide the grist of the middle act. And the best moment in the film involves the correct usage of the word “Indian.”

Some good performances abound from reliable, if not completely household name actors. Tom Jackson, Domenick Lombardozzi, Emmy Rossum, John Doman, William Forsythe as the retired hitman brother of Nils.

Two of the wives in the film have the most plumb roles. Elizabeth Thai steals the few scenes she is in as Forsythe’s once target now wife. The powerfully beautiful Julia Jones gives the impression as Viking’s ex-wife that she should be the one in charge.

The ending leaves a little too much to believe, but it works overall if one likes symmetry and sight gags. In all, if your sensibility is not tender and you don’t mind absurdity, this film will be right for you.

(**** out of *****)

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