Cold Pursuit: Liam Neeson’s best film in years but no one’s talking about that

Review: This revenge thriller will be renowned for its star's racially charged comments

The official trailer for Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson. Video: Lionsgate Movies

Liam Neeson in Cold Pursuit

Film Title: Cold Pursuit

Director: Hans Petter Moland

Starring: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, Laura Dern

Genre: Action

Running Time: 118 min

Thu, Feb 21, 2019, 05:32

   

Our American Cousin will be forever remembered as the play that Abraham Lincoln saw only part of before being fatally distracted by John Wilkes Booth. Nikita Khrushchev famously visited the set of Can-Can – an otherwise forgettable Shirley MacLaine vehicle – during a fractious trip to the US in 1959. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested at a screening of War Is Hell.

Cold Pursuit will never register in any history books, but it does exhibit a similar class of secondary renown. When Liam Neeson made some racially charged comments during the press junket for Hans Petter Moland’s singular revenge thriller, more than a few commentators wondered if he was cynically kicking up publicity for a careering dud. That was almost certainly not the case.

His colleagues have, ever since, been mopping up the mess that’s gathered round an effective slice of sub-zero Grand Guignol.

If things had gone differently, everyone would have been talking about Neeson’s best action film since The Grey in 2011.

For all the enjoyable mayhem that later ensues, Neeson probably now wishes that his character remained in the stable situation he enjoys at the start of the film.

Nels Coxman is among the most beloved men in Kehoe, Colorado. Snowplough drivers get the sort of respect there that other towns bestow on generals and Nobel Prize winners. He is named man of the year. He can afford an enormous house panelled with enough wood to build a fleet of longboats.

Sadly, his world comes crashing down – as the worlds of Neesploitation characters will – when hoodlums murder his son. Coxman thinks of killing himself, but thinks something else when he encounters clues to the killer’s identity. Entrails soon scatter the surrounding snow in patterns that Jackson Pollock might admire.

To this point the film has been deadly serious. Indeed, nothing Laura Dern – playing the underwritten Mrs Coxman – does or says betrays any suspicion that Moland has comic ambitions.

As the action progresses, however, a dark, Nordic absurdity takes over. Each time a baddie is killed, his nickname appears on a black screen beneath a symbol indicating his religion. The eliminations will appeal to those who admit that creative screen violence can be funny of itself: a bridal store worker’s brains show up starkly against his arrayed wares; Neeson calmly wraps the bodies in chicken wire and feeds them to the fish. The last of the black screens features enough names to mount a small invasion.

Adapting his own Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, Moland displays a cinematic gift that favours balance over flair. The long, snowy road to Denver becomes a repeated visual refrain.

Neeson is invited to deadpan even the most bizarre scenarios. The undercurrent of tragedy adds edge to every interaction. “It’s a good movie,” Neeson said at the end of his unsatisfactory ABC interview. We’ll give him that.

Opens on February 22nd