**/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B-
starring Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Laura Dern
screenplay by Frank Baldwin, based on the novel Kraftidioten by Kim Fupz Aakeson
directed by Hans Petter Moland
by Walter Chaw Cold Pursuit features the umpteenth iteration of Liam Neeson's angry white-vengeance avatar and its familiarity drags down Hans Petter Moland's English-language remake of his own In Order of Disappearance, as does the baggage Neeson's carrying around after revealing on the film's press junket that he once stalked the streets of Belfast, hoping a black man would start a fight with him so he could bludgeon him to death. When a white man "confesses" to being racist without initiating a conversation about his path to understanding the innate bias that would have him instantly equate the deeds of one black man with the character of all black men--not to mention instantly turn a woman's victimization and tragedy into a story of his own crisis and redemption--what he's actually doing is providing a racist/sexist dog whistle for thousands of similarly-blinkered white men to say "but for the grace of God" and, "who among us?" Except I've never thought the actions of one minority spoke to the worth, for good or ill, of an entire race. Not even when it seems like every mass shooting in the United States--and there's a new one every couple of days--is carried off by a mediocre white man who's usually angry with women for somehow identifying that he's not worth shit. I have certainly briefly fantasized about killing specific individuals for wrongs done to me or my family, but I have also never carried a weapon to their door in hopes they'd open it. I want to think I represent the majority. When the hordes sharpen their pitchforks in defense of poor Liam Neeson, though, it's cause to wonder.
Interviewed by VARIETY at the Berlin Film Festival, where his new film (not Cold Pursuit) is premiering, director Moland, after offering a broad, white-person's defense of Neeson's statements (including the "thought police" gaslighting tactic that should really be retired by now), switched to bemoaning how this conversation is "taking [his] voice away" and how Cold Pursuit should be talked about as a fun film about the futility of revenge. Except that it isn't, and neither was In Order of Disappearance--a movie that so inspired a conversation about the futility of revenge, you've probably never even heard of it. I like Moland a lot; Zero Kelvin and Aberdeen, his first two collaborations with Stellan Skarsgård, are immense and not at all like what one would suspect from a former car-commercial director in the Ridley Scott mold. Alas, In Order of Disappearance is exactly what you'd expect. What both films, the original and this remake, represent are these meticulously-crafted murder films by the man Terrence Malick once handpicked to take over for him on a production (The Beautiful Country). Transplanting the action from Moland's native Norway to my native Colorado, Cold Pursuit finds taciturn snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) going on a rampage upon discovering his son has been murdered and annihilating the entire criminal enterprise of drug lord Viking (Tom Bateman). Along the way, a small interest of Native Americans... Look: it doesn't matter. Just like it doesn't matter that this fictional town of Kehoe, Colorado looks for all the world like a town in British Columbia, nestled in the Canadian Rockies. There's an intrepid cop (Emmy Rossum) who starts to figure out what's going on, but that doesn't matter, either.
Cold Pursuit is funny in a gallows way when Moland inserts title cards with the names of fresh victims, and during multiple scenes in which Coxman punctuates moments of dark mirth with sudden eruptions of bloody violence. It's also amusing the way Viking loses his shit about everything, in one moment punching a giant exercise ball as he stalks through his mansion, in another trying to threaten his Native American soon-to-be-ex-wife and getting his balls squeezed as a deserved consequence. The picture's not funny, however, when you consider that Neeson, being who Neeson is even before he revealed his tone-deafness, is never believable as a quiet nebbish whom vengeance reforges into a badass killer, and it instantly kills any surprise along with any pathos potential to the piece. When it's Skarsgård, you buy the hangdog. With Neeson, he's always just one affront away from killing everybody. Laura Dern plays Grace, Coxman's estranged wife, with an icy fury that would have better served--and been better served by--the leading role. Imagine the film where Dern plows snow and harvests bad guys while her worthless husband, Coxman, falls into a flat-earther YouTube rabbit hole populated by men who don't see anything aberrant about wanting to murder a stranger of a specific race. It'd be a big improvement. As it is, Cold Pursuit is a gorgeous travelogue of British Columbia in the winter featuring Neeson doing his surprise-revenge-murder character. Mileage, as they say, will vary. Originally published: February 11, 2019.
THE 4K UHD DISC
by Bill Chambers Lionsgate's 4K UHD Blu-ray release of Cold Pursuit presents the film in a generally pleasing 2.39:1, 2160p transfer with HDR encoding in Dolby Vision and HDR10--only the latter of which I was able to audit. Prior to spinning it I feared the movie's snowy sights might have a blinding intensity, but they're really not any brighter than they are in SDR. Still, in HDR they lose their teal lean, looking closer to Mac store-white, and any sunlight reflecting off the powdery surface properly glints, whereas it has a tendency to blow out on the bundled 1080p Blu-ray. (There is, too, a greater distinction between the white land and the white sky in the 4K version.) Tastefully amplified highlights--the fluorescents in Nels's garage, for instance, or the sun peeking through the clouds at various moments--lend visual interest to some fairly blah locations, and I appreciated how the outside always gleams invitingly in any interior scene with a window view. Darkened interiors tend to fare less well, with blacks that compare poorly to the letterboxed bands; Cold Pursuit for the most part eschews high/deep contrasts, which is somewhat exacerbated by HDR. In addition, the uptick in fine detail in UHD seems negligible, leading me to assume the film was finished at 2K, although the smallish, Tim Burton-y font of the closing credits is arguably more legible in 4K. The accompanying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, even downmixed to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, is consistently immersive--the mix conjures convincing ambience for the most Siberian locales--and occasionally dazzling, especially during the ripsnortin' climactic gunfight.
As usual, Lionsgate furnishes both the UHD and HD discs with the same supplementary material, at the same resolution (1080p). Two interview featurettes conducted at the movie's junket--one with Liam Neeson (9 mins.), the other with director Hans Petter Moland (8 mins.)--are formatted in that idiosyncratic Lionsgate style whereby the questions ("What training did you have for the fight scenes?") are conveyed via title cards. Neeson says the project felt like a departure for him because his character doesn't have a very particular set of skills, although it's kind of moot, if you ask me, since he's still playing a ruthless, efficient killing machine. The whole racist revenge fantasy he blurted out on this press tour doesn't come up, but he actually redeems a rather vapid final inquiry ("What fond memories do you have of the shoot?") with a lovely anecdote about his time spent with Tom Jackson. Moland, meanwhile, does a bit of a deep dive into the inspiration for his original film (i.e., the trafficking of heroin in Europe that happened as a result of the Balkans needing to finance their endless wars) and it takes up a good third of his talking-head. Asked why he agreed to remake his own In Order of Disappearance, he credits producer Michael Shamberg, whom he says was interested in not just covering the material but recapturing its delicate tone as well. Moland, Neeson, Shamberg, and Jackson all appear in the formulaic "Welcome to Kehoe: Behind the Scenes on Cold Pursuit" (27 mins.), in which we see from slates that the picture was shot under the title "Hard Powder." Moland and Neeson are given their propers throughout; Jackson says he relished the opportunity to play a bad guy; and there's some discussion of how this "adaptation" (Shamberg's preferred term) came to be a more explicit western with literal cowboys and Indians. That's it for extras, though the standard Blu-ray Disc also features startup trailers for The Commuter, Our Kind of Traitor, and John Wick 3. A voucher for a digital copy of Cold Pursuit is included in the keepcase.
119 minutes; R; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision/HDR10; BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), Spanish DD 5.1; English, English SDH, Spanish subtitles; BD-100 + BD-50; Region-free (UHD), Region A (BD); Lionsgate