I’m not here to review the current controversy swirling around aging action star Liam Neeson. I’m here to review his latest film, Cold Pursuit — a movie I enjoyed far more than I expected to, which is an increasingly rare occurrence these days. While I can’t say Cold Pursuit is a flawless film by any stretch, I can say that it’s a very good one, juggling pitch-black parody and brutal violence with uncommon alacrity. While tonal dissonance is typically a minefield I would encourage filmmakers to avoid (not that anybody’s seeking my advice), director Hans Petter Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin tread carefully enough to pull off a delicate balance that works more than it doesn’t.
While I haven’t seen the 2014 Danish film upon which Cold Pursuit is based — In Order of Disappearance — I suspect that most of the strengths of this remake stem from its predecessor. The self-aware sensibilities that make it an effective parody of the action film genre also create a distinctive propensity for inspired juxtapositions, and the revenge thriller tropes that the movie lampoons lend themselves surprisingly well to comedic revision. Cold Pursuit is a film with its proverbial tongue planted firmly in cheek, even as that cheek is being beaten to a bloody pulp.
When Hitchcock set out to show just how difficult killing a person with your bare hands would be in Torn Curtain, I doubt he anticipated a future filmmaker mining the same idea for its comedic potential (although he certainly would have appreciated the sentiment). It’s in such moments that Neeson’s casting proves to be a shrewd choice, with his unlikely late-career renaissance as an aging tough guy providing the perfect setup for sight gags such as ineptly strangling a man or getting winded while beating up an overweight drug courier. Cold Pursuit’s premise could belong to any other anonymous thriller, with Neeson’s quest to avenge his son’s death playing like a host of other films (many sharing its star), but these moments of demented glee set it apart from its antecedents.
And while Cold Pursuit is not exactly a laugh riot, the script carries its fair share of the comedy with wink-wink, nudge-nudge sardonicism that shouldn’t be as much fun as it is. Neeson’s improbably named “Nels Coxman” carries an obviously phallic monicker, but rather than leave the joke where it lies, Baldwin hangs a lampshade on it with a ridiculous line of dialogue defining the term. This is the core approach that defines Cold Pursuit’s humor, a script in which even the title is a bad joke about worse nomenclature having been employed straight-faced for decades.
It should be noted, if you haven’t picked up on this fact already, that Cold Pursuit is definitely not a film for everyone. It takes the right kind of puerile bad taste to appreciate something this egregiously dumb and excessively overwrought, and maybe all the award season prestige I’ve had to digest over the last few months left me uniquely primed to latch on to something so ludicrously lowbrow. Regardless, if you’re in the market for some blood and bedlam to cleanse your cinematic palate after all that pallid, self-congratulatory industrial masturbation that constitutes the final weeks of Oscar aspiration, you’ll likely warm to Cold Pursuit.