This isn’t 'Taken' on ice. It’s so, so much better.
Liam Neeson is at it again, seeking bloody, violent vengeance for a family member wronged. But this time, it’s different. Rather than rehashing the story lines of his previous million action films, 'Cold Pursuit' is more like 'Fargo', or 'In Bruges'. It’s violent, yes, but it’s also very dark, and very darkly funny.
Neeson plays the father of a son dead under suspicious circumstances. While his revenge seems at first to be paint-by-numbers, the odd characters he meets along the way, and the comedy, really elevate the film. It truly exceeds expectations. This is a funny film, in a wonderful, off-beat way. In moments of bloody gore (it is very violent, but for brief moments only and not excessively so – it doesn’t linger) the moments are relieved by a funny quirk which works very well. Keep an ear out for the music too, which has been curated with humour in mind.
The acting is wonderful, the characters are at the same time quite out there, and yet very believable. Tom Bateman as arch villain Viking is sublime, walking the tightrope between coke fiend and overbearing helicopter parent, who bans all processed goods from his son’s diet (there is a great scene with all his henchmen sipping green smoothies) and gives his kid a copy of 'Lord Of The Flies' because it contains all of life’s answers. This hints at one of the film’s strengths, it really reflects aspects of our modern culture: from 'clean' diet obsession to diverse love interests. Indeed, Neeson and his family are the most traditional in the film. This modernises the typical 'gangster' genre, and makes the movie seem fresh.
It is also a very racially-aware film, which according to the perspective of the audience member, either works or is vaguely offensive. For example, there is one scene where a very wealthy white man corrects the language use of an African American character. There are also a lot of Indian (native American and India country) and Asian jokes. But those characters also pay out white people, so maybe it’s progressive, rather than uncomfortable? It will be up to the viewpoint of the audience to decide for themselves, and the recent Neeson controversy does not help.
The only other aspect of the film that could be improved is the underdevelopment of some characters, or relationships. Emmy Rossum as the ambitious local police officer could carry her own spin off: her character is great but sort of peters out at the end. Laura Dern is very much underutilised, and her plot line could have done with more explanation – it wasn’t very convincing. Neeson’s reaction to that and the loss of another family member was also underwhelming, he seems to be completely unaffected by the blows. However, the strength of the other plot lines, the originality of the story telling and the general enjoyment of the whole film overwhelms these very minor detractions.
'Cold Pursuit' is a great, increasingly rare kind of film, go see it now.