Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern, William Forsythe, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, Raoul Trujillo, Benjamin Hollingsworth, John Doman, Aleks Paunovic, Christopher Logan, Nathaniel Arcand, Ben Cotton, Mitchell Saddleback
Written by: Frank Baldwin, based on a screenplay by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Directed by: Hans Petter Moland
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references
Running Time: 118
Date: 02/08/2019
IMDB

Cold Pursuit (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Dish Served 'Cold'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Note: After I saw the movie and wrote the following review, Liam Neeson gave an interview in which he made some problematic comments, which led to a full-bore controversy, including the canceling of the red carpet portion of the film's premiere. In the face of this fallout, which entails a great deal of rage and very little understanding, I have opted to leave my review as it was.

Here it is, the first few weeks of a new year, and it's time for the latest Liam Neeson revenge film. And Cold Pursuit, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters, starts off just about the way you'd expect. But expectations are made to be dashed.

Neeson plays Nelson Coxman, a snowplow driver in the snowy mountain town of Kehoe, a few hours out of Denver. He is given a "citizen of the year" award for his efforts to keep the roads clear.

While "Nels" claims his award, his teen son is kidnapped and killed, and the body dumped in a public place. The autopsy reveals a drug overdose. But Nels knows that his son was murdered.

Acting on a tip, he walks into a nightclub and finds a certain thug. The thug seems to have certain nefarious ideas, but Nels pummels him bloody, gets him to reveal another name, and leaves him dead.

One of the first clues that Cold Pursuit is not going to be a typical Liam Neeson film comes when he gets home. He walks in the door. His wife Grace (Laura Dern) is there, and she barely looks up at him. He glowers and barks, "aren't you going to ask me where I was?"

Cold Pursuit is a remake of a 2014 Norwegian film called In Order of Disappearance. The director of that film, Hans Petter Moland, also helms this one.

Usually that combination doesn't yield good results, as witness poor George Sluizer, who remade his great 1988 Dutch film The Vanishing into a poorly-received 1993 Hollywood film. But Moland pulls off the trick.

Next we meet the movie's bad guy, a snide, slick, wealthy drug dealer called Viking (Tom Bateman). Viking has an army of henchmen, some of whom he casually murders when displeased, and also deals with a feisty ex-wife (Julia Jones) and a smart, kind-hearted son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes).

Ryan is having bully trouble at school, and Viking encourages him to fight dirty. "I gave you Lord of the Flies for your birthday! Everything you need to know is in that book!" he snaps.

Nels keeps killing Viking's men hoping to get closer to the well-protected drug-lord, but things get complicated. For the deaths, Viking blames a rival drug lord, White Bull (Tom Jackson), who has his own band of henchmen that are like American Indian versions of the Sopranos; Viking strikes back and thereby starts a turf war.

Emmy Rossum co-stars as a local police officer trying to make sense of it all.

As the title of the original film suggests, Cold Pursuit keeps careful track of a couple of dozen characters as they are either killed or as they simply walk out of the story. Each has their own colorful nickname as well, like "Mustang," "Smoke," "War Dog," and especially "Wingman" (William Forsythe), Nels's brother and partner from some hinted-at former life of crime.

The genius of Cold Pursuit is that it's both bloody and funny. It has a high body count, sometimes the deaths are weirdly amusing, and yet death still has meaning. The movie has time for shock, sadness, and regret over certain deaths.

But even more fascinating, it seems to challenge its audience, demanding the question: why did you laugh at that guy's death, but not this guy's death? What's the difference?

In so many action movies, death is arbitrary, but here it counts. It's accepted, and so are the myriad number of ways that humans respond to death.

Meanwhile, the convoluted plot, while clever, tends to grow a little exhausting, not unlike last year's multi-character crime-comedy Gringo. But Cold Pursuit is tighter, sturdier, perhaps because Moland practiced to perfection on the 2014 predecessor.

As it comes to a close, it still clings to its sense of wry playfulness, and its questioning of all that's going on. Perhaps its most brilliant masterstroke is the casting of Neeson; in this, he takes one look at his familiar character rut and knocks it cold.

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