Review: Cold Pursuit (2019)

It would be nice to live in a world where a beat-by-beat remake of a relatively recent foreign film wasn’t seen as a viable pursuit – what a world it would be if people would simply go out and see the original. Though I can’t entirely blame them here, for I had never heard of the original until now (nor did I hear of this film until planning my weekly theater visit, but that’s another matter entirely).

Cold Pursuit follows Nelson Coxman (Liam Neeson) as he seeks out bloody revenge for the suspicious death of his son, soon finding himself caught up in a turf war between Trevor Calcote (Tom Bateman) and White Bull (Tom Jackson), two rival drug lords. Dozens of lackeys enter and exit the picture quicker than you can count, making small marks before violent deaths.

Cold Pursuit doesn’t feel extraneous purely due to its status as a remake – nearly every element is familiar. The film feels lifted straight from the 90s, echoing the darkly cynical humor of Tarantino and the Coen Brothers and their usual convoluted mess of characters. And while the snow drenched setting simply makes sense for a Norwegian film, the unfortunate fact is that moving this same narrative to America sets this movie up to be compared to the far better Fargo.

The element most miss while attempting to mimic Tarantino is that he carries a certain wit that justifies his violence; there’s a contrast between the mundanity of his conversations and the violence that soon follows. There’s no subtlety here – the villains are either total cartoons or bland stereotypes.

Trevor “Viking” Calcote is simply an awful villain, which makes a plot driven by revenge against him hard to invest in. His personality seems to consist of nothing but negative traits; he’s a controlling father, abusive, kills indiscriminately. There’s no attempt at humanization, laughable but not in the way most comedies are striving for. Tom Bateman goes completely over-the-top in the role – it feels as if the whole character was an attempt at some sort of meta-commentary on revenge flick villains, but he’s so laughable and surface-level that it doesn’t suggest anything but poor writing.

Liam Neeson does a passable job as Nels, but I never felt invested in his character arc. We know some facts of his life – recent “Citizen of the Year” recipient, snowplow driver, quiet life on the edge of a resort town. But his actual connections are underutilized – the son dies right at the beginning and his wife leaves soon after (Laura Dern serving in the wasted role). He’s the archetypal man with nothing to lose – and therefore nothing for us as an audience to care about.

The most intriguing element lacks the weight it needs. The seemingly endless henchmen get their own minor plots before being unceremoniously killed off, and if the movie just honed in more on a few, there could have been something there. Instead, everything is a cheap joke – a secret gay love affair here, a disgusting hotel habit there. Cold Pursuit has ideations of being an ensemble piece but every character is either flat or absurd.

Cold Pursuit wants to be a satire of the traditional Liam Neeson-style revenge flick, but its humor is too juvenile and its actual conflict too bare-bones to succeed. It’s a mess of violence without meaning – it almost seems to forget what the string of killing is about after a certain point. Revenge served cold does not imply burying it so far back in the freezer that even the audience forgets why it’s there.

2 Stars Out of 5