At 66 years old, Liam Neeson has taken (pun intended) an unconventional career path, hitching his star to the idea that old-timers still have plenty of spit and vinegar. After three Taken films, plus a seemingly non-stop (again, pun intended) barrage of Taken derivatives (Unknown, The Commuter, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Run All Night, and yes… Non-Stop), he’s proven time and again that people will buy whatever he’s selling.
That, of course, remains to be seen going forward in the wake of the racism controversy he’s landed himself in, but taken in a vacuum, Cold Pursuit is among the better of Neeson’s recent offerings—a pseudo-Fargo/Taken mashup that adds a little cheekiness to the standard Neeson revenge fare we’ve been given over the last decade.
Directed by Hans Petter Moland—remaking his own 2014 thriller In Order of Disappearance—Cold Pursuit stars Neeson as Nels Coxman, a snow plow driver in frigid, snow-blanketed Kehoe, Colorado (though filmed in Fernie, BC). After his innocent son Kyle (played by Neeson’s real-life son Micheál Richardson) is killed by a drug cartel, Coxman sets out to get revenge on the bad guys.
The trail eventually leads back to slick Denver kingpin Viking (Tom Bateman), a cold and bloodthirsty killer who spends his days sitting in his swanky mansion ordering guys to order guys to order guys to kill guys. Nels starts at the bottom and works his way up the hierarchy ladder, dispatching baddies with his fists, his snowplow, or both, and after each successful kill, Moland gives us a handy full-screen epitaph for each victim. And then Nels dumps the body over a mammoth waterfall.
Complicating matters is the fact that, though it’s Nels who is offing all of Viking’s henchmen, the drug lord is convinced it’s the work of a neighboring Native American cartel—so a turf war breaks out. Eventually, however, everyone figures out what’s going on, and every bad guy in Colorado is knocking on Nels’ door.
The script by first-timer Frank Baldwin was clearly influenced by the Coen Brothers’ frosty-cold 1996 masterpiece, injecting ample amounts of coal-black humor into an otherwise grim tableau of bloody violence. Heck, there’s even a played-for-hilarity bit involving a guy and the business end of an industrial snowblower. But the balance of the script works, too. The characters are all colorful, including Nels’ former-dealer brother Wingman (William Forsythe) and rival drug lord White Bull (played with tongue firmly in cheek by Canadian crooner Tom Jackson), and with characters named Limbo, Santa, and Speedo, it’s clear we’re here to have a little fun.
Neeson, for his part, carries the day ably, growling his words and blowing people full of lead like a man half his age, and there’s even a nice little bit of feel-goodery when Nels eventually takes in Viking’s son to shield him from all the violence. There’s no question that Neeson’s latest imbroglio will impact the box office in the coming weeks, along with the collective shrug of people starting to tire of him acting in the same movie over and over again, but Cold Pursuit is among the better of them and certainly worth a look. The man’s still got it, and apparently it’ll be a cold day in hell when he stops reminding us.