Saturday, June 1, 2019

Movie Reviews: Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit
directed by Hans Petter Moland
This is a yet another Liam Neeson revenge movie that was the subject of some buzz not just because of the tall actor's trademarked baritone badassery but because apparently trying both to gin up interest in the movie and point out that he understood both the seductive allure of revenge and its bad moral costs, Neeson decided to share some stories from his real life. 

Apparently at one point a female friend of his (I don't think he indicated if they were special riders or not and it doesn't really matter) was raped by one or more black criminals. Enraged, Neeson said he started hanging around the area in which his friend was attacked, looking at black guys, wondering if a given man was the one and just hoping that some "black (bastard)" gave him a reason to set things off. Per Neeson he didn't do anything and is not the man he used to be. 

Subsequently, Neeson had to go on a little mini media tour explaining that no he wasn't a racist and blah-blah-blah. If I recall correctly the Hollywood premiere was canceled. That little tempest in a teapot may have made some people decide against viewing the movie or decide to look at Neeson a little differently. I didn't see things that way because I didn't see his actions or immediate thoughts as racist and with a few notable exceptions don't care all that much about the personal lives, sins, crimes, opinions or hangups of artists--especially those I will never meet. I do care about the product that they produce.

This was a strange little flick. It was not, repeat not a normal revenge movie although it certainly started out that way. It remains a wonder to me that at 66 years of age Neeson still remains a generally believable action star. I think that says less about Neeson and perhaps more about the decline of masculinity among Hollywood's younger generation of actors.  
But then again this movie went out of its way to deconstruct traditional masculinity even as its lead actor embodied it. Like I said strange.  It's a remake of the director's Norwegian movie. It definitely has a sensibility that is not your usual American popcorn payback flick.

You may sit down to watch this movie expecting that the hero will go thru the normal pattern of loss, heartache, determination, and then bloody revenge until he gets to the Big Bad and fixes his wagon but good. Well not really. Or maybe not as you might have expected. There is explicit violence. 

Nels Coxman (Neeson) is a taciturn snowplow driver in Kehoe, Colorado who has over his objections just received the Citizen of the Year Award. His leggy wife Grace (Laura Dern) is very happy for her hubby, who gives all the credit for his success to marrying her.  The long married couple have one son Kyle (Michael Richardson) who works out of the local airport. Kyle falls in with the wrong crowd and gets himself murdered although the murderers are savvy enough to make it look like a heroin overdose.

Grace and Nels each fall into a deep depression. Unfortunately they do so separately.  Grace blames Nels (and herself) for not knowing more about Kyle's life. Grace becomes something of a shrew. I thought Dern was wasted here. It was almost a cameo role.

In these types of movies the mother/wife either initially inspires the vigilante or is threatened by the bad guys at some point, which kicks the vigilante into overdrive. Not here. On the verge of suicide Nels run across one of his late son's friends and gets some information that convinces him that he was right: this was no heroin overdose. With renewed purpose he starts his mission, even as his marriage collapses. But a man's gotta do what a man has got to do.

And this is where the movie goes sideways.  Kehoe's cops see things very differently. The older cop (John Doman from The Wire) wants to take things easy, avoid danger, and especially avoid paperwork while his younger more aggressive by the book partner (Emmy Dossum) knows that something ominous is behind the sudden disappearance of local drug dealers, even if her guesses are often wrong. 

Cold Pursuit's Big Bad, Viking (Tom Bateman), is less of a frightening drug gang leader and more of a spoiled rich boy who shares uneasy custody of his son with his combative Native American ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones).  Viking is a pedantic sort who both caters to and worsens his son's fears while Aya wants to let their son eat and live normally. Although Aya is free to insult and even assault Viking in front of his men, the intimidating enforcer Mustang (Domenick Lombardozzi) won't let anyone else look crosseyed at Viking without immediate and severe consequences. 

Nels' actions inadvertently get both his brother Brock aka Wingman (William Forsythe) and Native American Ute druglord White Bull (Tom Jackson) involved in what could be a misunderstanding of Biblical proportions.  Brock and White Bull each have history with Viking.

As previously mentioned Cold Pursuit has a lot of black comedy, some of which is emphasized by having black letterboards appear each time a character is killed along with a brief moment of silence. Much of the movie takes place outdoors.  It was mostly shot in Canada. The viewer may get an appreciation for the beauties of snow, waterfalls, and mountains. You may ask why you respond to certain events as you do in watching this film. There's some subtle and less than subtle social commentary about American history and crimes, such as when White Bull sadly reviews a hotel's display of Native American regalia and wordlessly notes that it was made in China. 

The movie is brave enough to note that there is both comedy and pathos in revenge, something which you probably won't see in many other films aimed at the American audience. This movie is definitely off the beaten path but could be of interest to those willing to endure, or it is enjoy, something a little different. This is not Taken 4.
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