Liam Neeson is done. He’s older, he’s tired, he’s bored, he’s just not trying anymore. His career reinvention that kicked off over a decade ago with Taken has officially exhausted itself, but he can’t leave the money pit of being “middle-aged action man.” Taken itself was a gift and a curse because while it brought Neeson new fans, it offered later movies that wouldn’t challenge him but keep him in a creative rut. He’d get the occasional Scorsese or Coen brothers movie, but he’d still need to be back his day job of holding a gun or running from bad guys. And that can make a man bored or lazy or forgetful of what’s appropriate to talk about during a press tour. So here we are at the nadir of Neeson….driving snowplows.
Cold Pursuit follows Neeson as mild-mannered plowman Nels Coxman living comfortably in a cozy Colorado ski town with a loving wife (Laura Dern) and earnest son (Micheál Richardson). His easy living deep in the snow is ruptured when his son is found dead from a heroin overdose, despite knowing his son was not into needles. It turns out his son was murdered by a drug cartel, lead by the orderly yet psychotic Viking (Tom Bateman). Nels starts to hunt down members of the cartel one by one in an effort to avenge his son’s death, but not before an ambitious cop (Emmy Rossum) and a group of local Native Americans get caught in the crossfire.
Even without the current state of Neeson’s career, Cold Pursuit has little value. It’s a near shot-for-shot remake of the 2014 Norwegian black comedy In Order of Disappearance, which makes more sense given it’s from the director of the original, Hans Petter Moland. Despite screenwriter Frank Baldwin touching up a few details for an American setting (Colorado replaces Norway, Native Americans replace Albanians), Moland doesn’t do anything new with his own material. It’s a wonder why Summit and StudioCanal even hired Moland to direct Cold Pursuit if he didn’t want to improve on certain scenes or try a different tone or maybe even shoot the movie with an entirely different style. The best thing about a remake is the ability to take a completed picture, break it down and rebuild it into something new, a message lost on Moland. Even worse is that whatever positive features the original had are completely missing from the remake. There are setups for dark humor and even a few that earn a chuckle, but Cold Pursuit flat lines from frame one. There’s almost zero drama due to little development offered to any of the characters and the plot meanders along while introducing new elements out of nowhere. The few action scenes have some nice editing and visual flare to them but they feel like bargain bin imitations of John Wick without imagination. Everything is so bland and uninspired you almost wish the movie was a more basic revenge story with unnecessary editing, at least there’d be more to talk about.
What’s worse is that every actor here is on auto-pilot, Neeson in particular. For all the mileage he’s gotten out of being a strong, silent badass, even he seems starved for new material. He looks lost and tired for most of the movie without ever trying to do something with his character. He’s still very capable at being intimidating when he’s holding his cool-looking but improbable sawed-off rifle, though that can only get an actor so far when he’s as aimless as a car in a snowstorm. The more tragic waste is Dern who is given absolutely nothing to do here and is AWOL halfway into the film. You’d think she could serve as the moral compass in Neeson’s crusade but the script nor the director has anytime to think about that. The only true highlight of the movie is Bateman who chews every bit of designer scenery as an aggravated, anal retentive psychopath with a bored son and discount mafia thugs. His exaggerated delivery, pauses between actions and even just the simplest body ticks he does with other actors is so intriguing. He’s like Jim Carrey’s Riddler trying to imitate Robert De Niro from Goodfellas, practically deserving of his own wacky storyline. Unfortunately the movie zig-zags between all the players that no one has anytime to leave a mark.
Cold Pursuit is a failure on all fronts. It’s not funny as a black comedy nor is it entertaining as an action movie. It feels like someone imitating Martin McDonagh and the Coen brothers without actually putting in dramatic payoff or punchlines. The movie isn’t bereft of potential but it never capitalizes on any of it. Not all of the blame should be put on Neeson, but his lack of interest in what he’s doing is a heavy factor. The revenge action movie is not a dead genre, but it requires everyone involved to commit to making something different. If your lead actor is thinking about a different kind of revenge and not the one needed to make a movie, you’ve got a problem.