Is revenge a dish best served cold? That’s the overarching theme of the new Liam Neeson drama “Cold Pursuit,” a deconstructionist tome on the concept of “an eye for an eye,” which ends up leaving everyone blind. It’s a strange, visceral movie that feels far more challenging than the last decade of brainless action films Neeson has undertaken. This isn’t a movie about watching a senior citizen beat up people half his age. It’s a pitch-black story that occasionally swerves into dark comedy while watching two dozen people get brutally murdered in the empty pursuit of justice.
I got a real ‘90s vibe from “Cold Pursuit.” It feels like that generation of movies ushered in after the overwhelming cultural zeitgeist created by Quentin Tarantino. Back then studios were looking for eclectic crime films that could be filmed for less than $10 million dollars. Anything that was able to inject a little lunacy into the traditional crime caper. “Cold Pursuit” gives us the most basic revenge scenario setup:
Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is your typical earnest small-town citizen, humbly serving this small Colorado community by clearing the snow-covered roads. His life is irrevocably decimated after his son is murdered during a drug deal. Like most revenge-movie protagonists, he takes this tragedy poorly and begins to try and track down those responsible for his death. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t as cut and dry as he’d like. Before he has time to consider his actions, he’s already three bodies deep into a surprisingly easy murder spree.
There are a number of complexities to his revenge scenario, which includes another member of the Coxman clan with criminal connections: a megalomaniacal crime lord who doesn’t like hearing his henchman are being dispatched and a Native-American crime family dangerously close to starting an all out gang war in this sleepy resort town.
There’s something simple, almost purposefully constructed about how easy it is for Coxman to kill those he deems responsible for the death of his son. “Cold Pursuit” makes murder look remarkably easy. The humans populating this world are just one bad interaction away from having their lives snuffed out.
Coxman sets a series of events into motion; a murderous snowball that picks up malevolent momentum as it gathers bloody mass. Soon enough gangs are killing one another. Fragile alliances are shattered and bodies are piling up faster than the Sheriff’s office can count.
“Cold Pursuit” hits its most refreshing strides in the moments in between murders when it allows its cast of caustic characters to chew scenery. There’s a number of talented performers who have fun with the snappy script from writer Frank Baldwin. Neeson plays the straight man to a broad spectrum of comedic performers best exemplified by Viking (Tom Bateman), who is not just the head of a criminal cartel but a father struggling with fatherhood and his ex-wife. Bateman is the kind of entertaining looney this kind of dark comedy was created for. He’s the morally reprehensible antagonist you can’t help but enjoy when he’s wildly emoting.
The film reminded me of one of my favorite comedic murder capers, “Payback.” An extremely underrated piece of comedic crime noir that wasn’t afraid to get brutally violent. Like “Payback,” “Cold Pursuit” takes audiences along for a ridiculous revenge roller coaster that ultimately leaves our hero in the exact same place where he started. Through the most pugilistic of morality plays Coxman learns that life, death and our attempts at controlling the outcome for whatever reasons are the ultimate human folly.
I appreciate “Cold Pursuit”’s nihilistic philosophy presented in the least subtle way possible. “Cold Pursuit” can be appreciated on multiple levels, and for a bloody revenge movie, I found that as refreshing as a hot tub at a ski resort.