Liam Neeson playing a man setting out to avenge villainous treatment of a member of his family is a tried and tested formula for an excellently entertaining film. With its skilful employment of humour both light and dark, and its direct confrontation of the visceral realities of violence, Cold Pursuit secures its place among the old stalwarts of that acclaimed microgenre.
Recently named as Citizen of the Year for his dedication to keeping the roads open around Kehoe, a small town in the Rocky Mountains, Neeson’s character Nels Coxman is forced to refocus his energies when he receives news of the murder of his son. Within what feels like minutes of the film’s opening, Coxman’s wife – neglected in the script, but played no less convincingly by Laura Dern – has departed, leaving the protagonist to work his way higher up the chain of command of a local drug lord, the Viking (Tom Bateman).
Cold Pursuit – in its measured timing, its framing techniques and especially its careful demarcation of the growing body count – manages to be genuinely funny alongside all of the onscreen violence, although many of the cheaper laughs derive from tropes projected onto the minor, less-developed characters. Personal relationships in Cold Pursuit tend to be strictly business, although the authenticity of the connection between Coxman and the Viking’s surprisingly well-adjusted son, and the attention afforded to the complex familial tensions on both sides of the turf war that Coxman’s revenge path interrupts, both hint at a possible depth to these characters.
Worthy of remark, too, are the circumstances of that turf war – an old treaty concerning areas of distribution, agreed between Viking’s father and White Bull (Tom Jackson) with a view to deliberately disadvantaging the Native American suppliers. When the previously desolate space that White Bull was allowed for his competing business interests built a thriving resort town, bringing in enthusiastic customers, the established hierarchy was disrupted; and this is just one of the concurrent tensions, stories and histories that are glimpsed only fragmentally through a screenplay that centres on the vengeance drive of a bereaved father. Despite a focus that could therefore be described as narrow, or even reductive, Cold Pursuit delivers both violence and humour with admirable effect, gently expanding the cinematic possibilities of the “revenge” film.
Cold Pursuit is released nationwide on 22nd February 2019.
Watch the trailer for Cold Pursuit here: