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“Cold Pursuit” Puts A Deliciously Dark Comedy Spin On The Liam Neeson Revenge Tale

Just as we were reaching peak exhaustion with Liam Neeson kicking ass, along comes something fresh and new. Once upon a time, Taken showcased the dramatic actor as an action hero. Myriad sequels and knockoffs later, there didn’t seem like there was much more to do with Neeson in the genre. He’d even suggested he was done. Luckily, Cold Pursuit spits in the face of those films. Brutal, dark, and often hilarious, it’s the deranged offshoot that shows how effective the use of Neeson in violent fare can still be. Give him an R rating, black comedy to mix in, and the result is one of the year’s best so far.

The movie is a remake of the foreign flick In Order of Disappearance from 2014. Here, the action has been transplanted from Norway to Kehoe, Colorado. Nels Coxman (Neeson) is a quiet family man and dedicated worker. As we meet him, he’s receiving a Citizen of the Year award from the town. At the same time, his son is being killed by the cronies of a drug lord known as Viking (Tom Bateman). Made to look like a drug overdose, Nels knows better and sets out to find the culprit. Systematically taking out the cartel’s lower level operatives, he slowly gets closer and closer to Viking. As he blows away scumbag after scumbag, he accidentally also ignites a turf war. As the local police stumble along towards figuring out what’s going on, more and more folks die, often in rather inventive ways. It may sound rote, but the style and humor injected into it is a fiendish delight. Hans Petter Moland directs (after helming the original), while the adaptation is penned by Frank Baldwin. George Fenton provides the score, while the cinematography is by Philip Øgaard. Supporting players here include Laura Dern, William Forsythe, Tom Jackson, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, Emmy Rossum, and more.

I really loved this film. Once you catch on to what it’s doing, there’s devilish joy in seeing just how darkly funny it can get. Creative both in its humor and violence, it’s rather delightful, provided you’re on the twisted side. I was especially taken with the way the deaths are depicted, in particular with the on screen tribute of sorts that accompanies a character’s untimely demise. The first one is a bit confusing, but then, it becomes an intriguing choice. Before long, it’s hilarious. Finding the comedy in all of this carnage, it takes the right touch. Luckily, everyone involved is up to the task. When Neeson asks someone which quarterback is better, John Elway or Peyton Manning, before blowing them away, you know that this is uncharted territory.

Neeson found a new act to his career with this turn towards action. Taken was an enjoyable change of pace, though in the years to follow, he sort of got caught in a rut. Too many of these outings felt similar. You change the location, the reason he’s on a mission for revenge, and you had a new picture. This really resets that. Beyond the similarities inherent in the genre, letting him be R rated in his violence/langue, plus allowing him to take part in black comedy, the result is something fresh and palate cleansing. If he keeps dipping his toes into this kind of water, he should keep kicking ass and taking names.

Opening this week, Cold Pursuit offers up a whole new spin on the Neeson action epic. If you have a soft spot for truly messed up humor and sometimes brutal violence, this is going to be a treat. In all honesty, it’s so good and so weird, I’m fully expecting it to tank at the box office and become a cult classic. Time will tell there, but right now, this is the class of 2019 so far. That won’t sustain, but for a bright shining moment, this grimy and delightfully fun bit of strangeness is in the pole position. Give it a look and you’ll see why…

Be sure to check out Cold Pursuit, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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