Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Liam Neeson, Emmy Rossum, Tom Bateman
Liam Neeson’s character in Cold Pursuit is called Nels Coxman. His counterpart in the Norwegian film upon which it is based was called Nils Dickman. The immaturity with which director Hans Petter Moland’s characters are named is hardly indicative of his movies, both of which are surprisingly sophisticated.
Cold Pursuit is both a parable on the emptiness of revenge and a snarky takedown of the sort of movies Neeson has been making for the last decade. It is a pitch black comedy – reminiscent slightly of an idea the Coen Brothers might flirt with, and then discard – in which a scene involving the identification of a dead body is played for uncomfortable laughs, as is the funeral (of another man). In fact, it is likely that you will chuckle immediately after virtually every death in the film – and there are many – but more on that later.
Cold Pursuit, I am happy to report, is Neeson’s best film since 2011’s criminally underrated The Grey, with which it shares not only a snowy setting, but also one iconic shot.
Cold Pursuit is way more layered than Neeson’s Taken series.
It is a pivotal moment in both films, one that awakens a primal urge in Neeson’s similarly stony characters. Coxman, like his John Ottway from the Grey, is a blue collar man. He works a snowplow in a resort town in the Rocky Mountains. Driving the same road everyday, he says at a function held in his honour – he’s an upstanding citizen of the community, you see – makes him wonder about the road not taken.
Soon, he is given the opportunity to explore a side of his personality that has been buried, like his town, under thick, icy armour. His job is quite the literal metaphor for his attempts at uncovering this alter ego. When his son is killed by local gangsters, the mild mannered Coxman goes on a violent killing spree in search of the man at the head of the table.
The film’s villain is played with scenery chewing hilarity by Tom Bateman, who is just as menacing as he is idiotic. In another example of the film’s inventiveness with its character names, he’s called Viking. And the goons he is perpetually surrounded by are just as colourfully named – they’re called Speedo and Limbo and Shiv and Mustang.
Tom Bateman plays the Cold Pursuit’s villain with scenery chewing hilarity.
I remember their names not because they’re unusual, but because the film eulogises every death by displaying the deceased’s name in bold letters on the screen, immediately after their passing.
It seems like a harmless attempt at humour at first, but when the bodies begin to pile up in a seemingly endless circle of violence, you begin to ponder the value of life – especially in movies.
Imagine one of Neeson’s other films, perhaps Taken, utilise a similar approach. It would add at least 15 minutes to the runtime, and greatly alter its tone. Death in that film was taken for granted; it was a means to an end, with barely any consequences. Bryan Mills killed simply because that’s how he was wired. Human lives were merely obstacles in his path. Cold Pursuit is way more layered.
Keeping with its Coen Brothers tone, there is a slight religious subtext to the concept of life and death in Cold Pursuit. Vengeance, however, might sadly be the only thing that unites our faiths – it is the most commonly committed sin, despite complete condemnation.
Even Coxman doesn’t know what’s at the end of the road he finds himself on, and yet, like the newly discovered psychopath that he is, he continues swiping men out of his way, as if they were made of snow.
It would be irresponsible of me to not mention Neeson’s recent comments about revenge here, especially since they tie in so effectively with the themes of this movie. Of his own volition, Neeson in a recent interview – meant as promotion for Cold Pursuit – confessed to having had racist fantasies about taking revenge for an atrocity committed upon someone he knew. “I went up and down areas with a cosh,” Neeson said, “hoping some black bastard would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
While many found his comments to be highly problematic on several levels, others applauded him for having the courage to speak about his demons, and to seek help to exorcise them (which, it must be pointed out, he did). The parallels between the image of a young Liam Neeson, skulking along dark alleyways, looking for trouble, to the many similar characters he has played on screen is unmistakable.
While it is OK for the movies to offer the escapist thrill and short-lived satisfaction of revenge, films such as Cold Pursuit are bringing real-world gravitas to something we’ve all taken for granted.
First Published: Feb 08, 2019 10:50 IST