In ‘Cold Pursuit,’ Liam Neeson Pits Two Rival Drug Lords Against Eachother With Deadly Results

What’s an action film without someone’s family member getting murdered? In “Cold Pursuit,” that honor falls to Kyle Coxman (Micheál Richardson), the son of Nels (Liam Neeson) and Grace (Laura Dern). Kyle works as a baggage handler at the airport in Kehoe, Colorado, which perhaps gave him too much access to illegal cocaine shipments. When Kyle and his co-worker Dante (Wesley MacInnes) help themselves to a kilo of the stuff, it does not end as well as expected, and father Nels begins his quest for revenge.

Liam Neeson plays another version of the role he’s been playing since “Taken.” This time, his character drives a snowplow. Carving clearances through 12-foot high snowfall takes a certain kind of courage. It takes the ability to begin a task with a singular goal in mind without knowing how it will end. He applies that skill to his desire for revenge.

Beginning with the criminal bottom feeders, he works his way up to the top of the drug dealing food chain. He goes through the local hierarchy of crazy-named white thugs (Limbo. Speedo, etc.). Finally he works his way up to Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman), the over-the-top big boss. Along the way, Nels’ wife leaves him, Viking kills the son of Native American gangster White Bull (Tom Jackson), and an ambitious sheriff’s deputy (Emmy Rossum) wants to arrest them all. The two gangs (Viking’s and White Bull’s) go to war and a lot of people die.

“Cold Pursuit” is the remake of a Norwegian crime comedy, “In Order of Disappearance.” Following the dark comedic lead of “Pulp Fiction,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Trainspotting,” it boasts an ensemble cast. Most of them are brutal thugs, but Viking has a tough ex-wife Aya (Julia Jones). They have a gifted son, and since it seems like open season on sons, that boy becomes the ultimate target.

Sometimes the humor works naturally; sometimes it’s a stretch. The violence switches between explicit and bloody to more subtle and off-screen. Each death is then commemorated with a black and white title card announcing the victim’s name, their nickname and a religious symbol.

Characterization is largely limited to explosive acts of violence, “Pulp Fiction” inspired monologues and Nels’ pondering silence. Laura Dern’s character disappears within the first half hour. Neeson is an exceptional actor. Even when he is involved in a straightforward revenge fantasy like this one, he brings depth to the role. The other standouts are Jackson’s White Bull and Jones’ Aya.

“Cold Pursuit” benefits from the location in which it was filmed, the Colorado Rockies. In the dead of the winter, the Rockies are beautiful but they can be deadly to the unfortunate. Everyone is bundled up to escape the cold. Bodies are disposed off a mammoth waterfall sheeted in ice. Everything about the environment has a perilous edge. Even the well-plowed freeways into Denver look dangerous. Cold and snow becomes a second antagonist that is in many ways more life threatening than the humans that populate it.

Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, who first gained attention with the wonderful and painful father/daughter drama “Aberdeen,” directed the original as well as this remake. There was a time Norway was better known for gentle character comedies like “Elling” and “Kitchen Stories.” And now with the recent visibility of Nordic Noir and Jon Nesbø’s “Headhunters,” Norwegian filmmakers have followed the lead of their neighboring Nordics to a darker and a bit more twisted subject matter.

“Cold Pursuit” has its moments of darkly comic ingenuity. It has the twisting labyrinth of personalities that one has come to expect from stories like this. And most impressive of all, it has the overwhelming beauty of the Colorado Rockies. It’s a vista that is both stunning and dangerous.

Cold Pursuit” opens Feb. 8 in theaters nationwide.