Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson
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…easily the best thing Liam Neeson has starred in since Taken, maybe even better.
For a little over a decade, Liam Neeson has been enjoying a bombastic career rejuvenation thanks to a jump-starter performance in Pierre Morel’s Taken. However, his ubiquity has reached a memetic breaking point of late. Whether intentionally, like the Jimmy Kimmel mock trailer for Taken 4, or unintentionally, like with the actual Taken sequels, he’s become a walking self-parody. And with every year, there comes yet another action thriller where Neeson is called on to play the hero who gets dragged into events because a family member is in trouble.
Thankfully, with Cold Pursuit, that’s really where the similarities end as far as what audiences have come to expect from a modern Neeson flick.
Instead, we find the main man in more darkly comedic territory with the snow-capped, small town setting the stage for a violent turf war between drug lord Viking (Tom Bateman) and Native American kingpin White Bull (Tom Jackson). It hits a healthy midway point between the idiosyncratic quirkiness of a Coen Brothers effort like Fargo, and the cathartic blend of mirth and murder of Martin McDonagh with In Bruges or the more recent Three Billboards.
Cold Pursuit manages to hit drama, pitch-black comedy and hard-hitting action in all the right doses, allowing each element to breathe without negating the effects of the others. Neeson’s wheelhouse of gritty, low-flash action holds true here, as the fight scenes can get gory and brutal. But that never gets in the way of the bigger jokes, like Viking’s demand for loyalty that reaches legit self-parody at times or how, for once, Neeson isn’t playing someone with an actual past in gunplay. Potential nepotism and reading habits are about as close to the Taken character’s particular set of skills as it gets here, and yet he still sells it like a champion.
Now, this is one of those weird Americanised remakes where the director of the original, here being Hans Petter Moland, is retelling their own story. The main difference between the two, aside from shifting from Norway to the Northwestern United States, is the culture at the heart of the turf war. Neeson’s Nelson, who pushes literal snow for a living; Viking, who pushes figurative snow for a living; and White Bull, who is pained to see what has happened to the snow that his people used to call home. It touches on some Wind River-esque territory regarding Native/Caucasian relations in America, aided by a very McDonagh approach to racial tensions as comedy, and it adds a surprisingly clever layer that makes the blood-soaked goofiness on display feel like it has a greater purpose than just visceral reaction. The result is easily the best thing Liam Neeson has starred in since Taken, maybe even better.