Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The opening chapters of action-thriller black comedy “Cold Pursuit,” a remake of Norwegian film “In Order of Disappearance” (“Kraftidioten”), both works directed by Hans Petter Moland, leads the viewer to believe that it is a revenge picture told solely from the perspective of a father, Coxman (Liam Neeson), who is convinced that his recently deceased son was not a drug addict—but that he had been murdered in cold blood and his killers made it appear as though the young man’s death was due to overdose. But the self-aware screenplay by Frank Baldwin functions on a much higher plane; it works as a critique of both vengeance films and how drug underworlds are often depicted on film. The humor stems from our knowledge of commonly traversed themes.

While it is able to deliver bursts of violence in an effective manner, the film is less interested in providing raining bullets than exploring the circumstances that lead up to small eruptions. More specifically, it is willing to put a magnifying glass on the various colorful personalities we come across: our protagonist who just so happens to be a snowplow driver (Neeson), the rule-obsessed local drug lord (Tom Bateman) who looks at his son and recognizes only weakness, the Native American (Tom Jackson) drug lord from Denver, the overzealous cop (Emmy Rossum) who wishes to save the Rocky Mountain town, to name a few. The pot is stirred with preternatural patience until each subplot’s flavors meld into one another. At its best, it reminded me of the skillful writing and overall savagery of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s masterful “Fargo.”

The body count is high. Every person who dies gets a title card after the fact—kind of like reading a gravestone. It commemorates their demise, in a way, which hilariously ties into the film’s opening quote by Oscar Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” The assassinations have seasonings to them, too. While many are very much deserved (the majority of the men are cold-blooded killers), most are ironic, cruel even, and a few have a slight tinge of sadness to them. The manner in which bodies are disposed are purposeful and repetitive—yet it gets funnier each time. I will never look at chicken wires the same.

Despite its gallows humor, suspense constantly courses just underneath the plot’s sclera. Consider Coxman: Unlike the men he must interrogate in order to get to the truth of his son’s death, he proves to be no professional hitman. Even we can recognize his mistakes: his timing, how he gets too close to the enemy, a tendency to give pause when constant reaction is clearly the wiser route. At one point, a friend (William Forsythe) who finds it miraculous that Coxman is still alive despite having pummeled members of the cartel suggests that the grieving father hire an assassin—someone who does it for the money, someone who takes killing as impersonal, a mere job… a perspective that Coxman does not have—cannot have—since his boy’s body has gone cold. Meanwhile, the local drug lord is on the hunt for the person who has punished his associates. Naturally, every second gets him closer to Coxman.

Ferociously funny in parts, consistently entertaining, and propelled with forceful pacing, “Cold Pursuit” stands out from most revenge and gangster pictures because the story is told through an off-kilter angle which results in landing on unexpected territory. It makes an excellent double bill with Henrik Ruben Genz’ hidden gem “Terribly Happy,” a Danish noir thriller as twisty as a pretzel.

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