Cold Pursuit
3 stars
Director: Hans Peter Moland
Stars: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Micheal Richardson
Duration: 119 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

Liam Neeson’s filmography is certainly not one to be sneezed at. In a career spanning almost 40 years, the actor has appeared in the likes of Excalibur (1981), The Mission (1986), Suspect (1987), Schindler’s List (1993), Michael Collins (1996) and Les Misérables (1998). He appeared in the Star Wars prequels, in 2002’s Gangs of the New York and 2005’s Batman Begins, to name but a handful, underlying his not inconsiderable range.

The last few years have seen Neeson take on the mantle of action hero, starring in a number of middling revenge-themed movies. Why he chose to go down this road is anybody’s guess… yet a recent interview revealed a darker side to the actor, who always seemed so amiable.

Speaking to The Independent UK newspaper while promoting his latest film, Cold Pursuit, Neeson admitted that 40 years ago, after a close friend of his was raped by a black man, he walked the streets, weapon in hand, hoping to take out his anger and revenge on any black man he would find.

“There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under cri­minal conditions…” he ex­plained to his interviewer, ostensibly about his character in the movie, before moving on to that startling confession. He then elaborated, admitting that he was imme­diately ashamed of the incident and that he’d learned hard lessons from it – but this, of course, did not stop social media from going into frenzied overdrive.

I’m no psychologist, yet it’s not a stretch to ponder whether those primal feelings explain his penchant for revenge movies of late. Cold Pursuit is but the latest of a series that started with 2008’s Taken.

Vein of very black humour runs throughout

Neeson is Nels Coxman, a mild-mannered snow plough driver in the sleepy ski resort town of Kehoe. When his son is murdered by a powerful criminal gang, Nels sets out on a blood-bathed binge of revenge against that gang’s Boss, the suave drug lord known as Viking (Tom Bateman).

So far, so typical revenge flick, as Coxman sets out to kill people in ways that become more violent and colourful as his confidence increases, unknowingly sparking off a very violent gang war between Viking and his acolytes, and rival Native Ameri­can drug dealers led by White Bull (Tom Jackson).

The body count is high, each death more insidious than the one before, the violence brutal and bloody. What differentiates this from the rest, however, is the vein of very black humour that runs throughout. Each death is signed off by a caption card with the dead character’s name, and it’s a gag which is always funny, given some of their names – Speedo, Limbo, Bullet.

There is some blatant racism and sexism thrown in – but it’s hardly surprising, given the characters are hardly as pure as the driven snow (which serves as a magnificent backdrop to the proceedings).

That said, I did laugh out loudly when an oblivious hotel receptionist asks the group of Native Americans asking for rooms whether they have a reservation... And a tender moment between two of Viking’s henchmen came as a bit of a pleasant surprise.

It is a film full of quirks, but of little depth. Director Hans Petter Molan remakes his original 2014 Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance, which received rave reviews and comparisons to the likes of Quentin Tarantino. The influence of the foibles and violence so prevalent in the latter’s movies is evident here. Yet the characters remain stubbornly one-dimensional.

Neeson has little more to do than yet again play the square-jawed, stoic but devastated father out for revenge – and he simply does little more than go through the motions. Laura Dern appears as his wife for a couple of minutes and then vanishes from the scene completely. Bateman has a few good moments but tends to walk into pantomime villain territory as he hisses his lines with enthusiasm.

It is Jackson’s sombre and philosophical White Bull who brings some gravitas, while there is some fun banter between the town’s world-weary veteran and corrupt cop and a bright, eager young recruit (John Doman and Emmy Rossum).

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