Tarantino meets the Coen’s.
As humans, we all make mistakes, both big and small. Whether it be spilling a cup of coffee, or admitting to a journalist that you walked around with a cosh looking for “some black bastard” after someone you cared about was raped, errors of judgement are part of life. Neeson’s insane confession, regardless of your thoughts, has tinged the anticipation for his latest violent yarn, Cold Pursuit. A shame, really; it’s his finest work since Taken.
Only five years ago, Hans Petter Moland made In Order of Disappearance, a Norwegian black comedy. He then took the successful formula of that effort, and adapted it for Hollywood in this remake. The story revolves around the snow-covered town of Kehoe, a peaceful place where “people come to ski and get high”. Nels Coxman is the local plough driver, a pillar of the community who’s awarded Citizen of the Year. Immediately after, his son his killed. He turns his grief into a revenge mission against those responsible; the town’s drug lords.
There are two factions; one led by “Viking” (Tom Bateman), a psychopathic neat and fitness freak with a strict moral code, and “White Bull” (Tom Jackson), a leader of the Ute people and Viking’s rival. Their operations have been concurrent with peace, but Nels’ bloodlust sparks paranoia between the clans, creating a triple-frontier war.
The film’s treatment of extreme violence riffs on the irreverent tone of Tarantino. It’s fulfilling to watch; deaths are practical despite the splatterings of blood, sometimes a test of endurance but given plausibility through Neeson’s ability to smoulder with a gun. Cold Pursuit almost feels like the culmination of his renaissance as an ass-whooping man with a set of particular skills (although here, he read how to kill someone in a crime novel), but as a performance he’s at his nippiest, navigating a stream of offbeat, cold-hearted humour.
Moland’s direction is solid, adapting the story with grace, intertwining a one-man revenge romp with a gangster flick. Aside from one too many shots of ploughing between narrative segments, almost like video game loading screens, the story flows and earns its 120 minute-ish runtime. For every relentless death (there’s a lot), there’s a humorously employed title card, which instills an energetic punch. In some ways it riffs on the desolate blizzard landscape of Fargo (gorgeously framed by returning cinematographer, Philip Øgaard, despite the slightly jarring changes of frame rate in more chaotic scenes), contrasting brutality with bemusement. But then the quirky pep of True Romance kicks in, particularly in one car ride which indirectly homages Christopher Walken’s iconic monologuing with Dennis Hopper. Bodies are cut through with haste and glee, but never feeling tasteless.
Outside of Neeson, the cast are mostly strong. Laura Dern is wasted in probably the most pointless bit of A-list casting. Bateman’s delivery of Frank Baldwin’s script is exuberant, tapping into the inherent schlocky feel of the thing, creating an engaging villain to grapple with. Jackson manages to portray his character as a respectable figure, carrying an empathy-evoking charisma. Baldwin doesn’t always stay tuned into the story; bizarre moments such as a fantasy football discussion between Viking’s son and a henchman, or a “stockholm syndrome” gag, are woven in.
But then, it works. There’s something ferociously entertaining about it all, in all its Coen-esque blend of the frantic and quaint, the zany, barbarous approach to death, and George Fenton’s delightful composition with a recurring tender melody.
An insanely watchable slice of icy mayhem, self-amused but also self-assured right down to the last rib-tickling frame.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm