Vigilante justice is not a new theme for the cinema, and yet despite so many movies featuring the quest for ultimate retribution the genre still seems to attract audiences. Perhaps it’s because of Liam Neeson alone who for much of the last twenty years has kept it in our minds, but whether it is his enduring screen charisma or not, it’s clear that there is something very captivating about watching anti-heroes.
Cold Pursuit is but the latest in a line of vigilante crime films and though it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, still manages to be a bloody, funny and entertaining excursion. A remake of the Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, director Hans Petter Moland (who also directed the original film) is by no means attempting to reinvent the wheel for this genre, but rather to rely on the standard type of formula films like this are built on.
A hardworking and good-natured everyman (Neeson) has his world transformed when his son is murdered, and so he becomes a walking killing machine, hell-bent on taking down all those responsible. In the meanwhile, he gets caught up in a gang turf war all while eluding the authorities and getting one step closer to ultimate vengeance.
This basic narrative may be tweaked here and there in various films (Death Wish, Taken, The Foreigner to name but a few) but generally follows the same tropes; so how should we view Cold Pursuit? Of course, originality and innovation should always be strived for but occasionally like in the vigilante genre, it becomes difficult to produce something that is really original or innovative. So should filmmakers stop making these films if they cannot add anything new to them? Not necessarily, despite all the familiarity with these films, seeing someone exact revenge will never get old. Even in spite of how many times we’ve seen it over the years.
For Liam Neeson it may be one reason why he has returned to this type of role so often; there’s humanity in these characters (despite their very serious criminal flaws) and a relatability that may perhaps enable some of us to think we could act in the same way if we had to. His character in this film is not particularly different from his ones in Taken or The Grey for instance, but his ability to be so likable and sensitive amidst a gruff and tough exterior make all his characters memorable if again similar.
If there’s one downside to his settling in on these tough guy roles, it is that he has somewhat buried his other versatile performances. Many may forget that this invincible figure also has the depth to play Oskar Schindler or Irish revolutionary Michael Collins because of the plethora of vigilante men he has played.
Cold Pursuit adds to this list and is certainly not the most striking of its kind or in Neeson’s filmography, but uses its cliches with enough freshness and dark laughs to be generally enjoyable. There’s plenty of blood and gore here and a surprisingly amusing way that the film keeps track of the dead count (if we can view that as something amusing) that despite its graphic nature is definitely entertaining. Add in good set pieces and a quirky score from George Fenton, this movie embraces its outlandishness in a fun way.
There are indeed glimpses of a greater film here, with the most obvious comparison to Fargo; both have great images of alpine and winter beauty, an enterprising young policewoman, bodies that pile up, and an elaborate chain of criminals and conspirators. This movie is nowhere near as smart, incisive and sharp as Fargo but shows that it at the very least understands the basic ingredients of a dark comedy crime film even if it doesn’t do anything outstanding with them.
Filled with everything an audience might expect for this type of film with a Liam Neeson starring role, Cold Pursuit sits comfortably as a diverting and worthy entry into this genre while never breaking any ground. For his part, Neeson again delivers a reliably compelling personification that while may not exhibit his talents in any spectacular fashion, certainly enforces his reputation as a commendable lead actor.
Is this movie more memorable than his other similar roles or others in this brand? Perhaps not, but whether one chooses this film or another it’s quite clear that this type of storytelling still captivates us and with a star like Liam Neeson that’s not a bad thing at all.