Liam Neeson plays a dad out to get everyone involved in his son’s death in “Cold Pursuit.”
The worst thing that could happen to the darkly comic, Tarantino-esque revenge thriller (in theaters now) did: The movie’s Irish star revealed to a journalist for Britain’s The Independent that he once searched for a random black person to kill after a loved one’s rape. Sure, Neeson admitted that he looks back at the incident with shame and regret (“It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that”) and told Robin Roberts that he’s “not racist” on “Good Morning America,” but it’ll definitely turn off some moviegoers who would have watched him hunt down criminals as a grieving father avenging his dead son.
However, the hubbub may not deter hardcore Neeson-philes or those who need the R-rated action that a “Lego Movie” sequel can’t provide. For anyone who may have a few burning questions about “Cold Pursuit,” here are some (mostly) helpful answers.
Why are we getting yet another Liam Neeson revenge movie?
His 2009 action film “Taken” not only became a big hit, but created a cottage industry for Neeson as a grizzled, gray-haired action hero showing off his particular set of skills. (Not one of them? Timing, apparently.) But “Cold Pursuit” is a different beast than, say, “The Commuter” or “Non-Stop”: Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland directs the remake of his own 2014 movie “In Order of Disappearance” (a title that inspires a neat little thing that happens in the closing credits of the new film), and it’s not as much a Neeson flick as one that happens to have him in it.
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What’s the least we need to know going in?
Snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson), a helpful, stoic dude named “Citizen of the Year” in his Colorado resort town, turns vigilante when his son Kyle (Micheal Richardson) is mistakenly killed by goons working for Denver drug lord Viking (Tom Bateman). Nels starts taking out those involved, gets on the radar of a couple of local cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman), and unknowingly ignites a snowy turf war between Viking – who’d like to know why his minions are disappearing, thank you very much – and a group of Native American gangsters run by the aging White Bull (Tom Jackson). Speaking of, most of the film’s antagonists go by code names: Santa, Speedo, Limbo, Bone and The Eskimo, among others. (Some are inspired, others inexplicable.)
What’s Neeson’s role like?
For a guy whose day job is operating a snowplow, Nels is crazy efficient moonlighting as an antihero. Plus, he’s practical, making sure to always find out the next guy up the food chain before eliminating his current victim – whether using his bare hands or a sawed-off hunting rifle. Nels does transition from stone-cold executioner to more of a protector, though, and it should be noted that Neeson, as effective as he is, isn’t even the highlight of “Cold Pursuit.”
Wait. So what is the best reason to see ‘Cold Pursuit’?
That prize goes to the British Bateman (“Murder on the Orient Express”). His Viking is seriously fun to watch, a psycho vegan villain who drives a Tesla, sticks to a criminal honor code, and makes his goons and his young son drink green smoothies while also outlawing Fruity Pebbles for breakfast. Which is totally a jerk move.
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Would Tom Bateman be a better Batman or Superman?
Since we like to attach actors to superhero vacancies, Bateman is more of a Batman: He’s got the look of rich guy down, plus his jaw’s square enough for the famous cowl. Honestly, slap some face paint on him and the menacing Bateman would be a fantastic Joker. But back to the subject at hand …
Who else is in this movie that we might know?
Folks will know Rossum from Showtime’s “Shameless” and recognize Forsythe as a longtime tough-guy character actor in various movies and TV shows. Laura Dern has a small supporting role as Nels’ grieving wife Grace while Domenick Lombardozzi, an alum of “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire,” plays Viking’s right-hand man Mustang.
What might get lost in all the Neeson controversy?
Snuck in between Nels’ earnest revenge plot line and Viking’s ridiculous gangster story is a nuanced narrative about White Bull’s crime syndicate returning to land where their ancestors were pushed out. There’s a serious angle but also a satirical one as well, with Native American criminals using social niceties and political correctness to their advantage.
Is this OK for my kids to see?
That would be a no. Though a young boy is a key aspect of the story, the R-rated movie is chock-full of violence: Nels bloodies multiple dudes with his fists when not shooting people, plus there are severed heads and a harrowing gunfight. That said, while a lot of people die, some fatalities happen offscreen and others are communicated in gallows-humor fashion.
What kind of death toll are we talking here?
We stopped counting at 12 before things got really crazy. But in keeping with the movie’s overall grim-lite aesthetic, everyone who gets killed gets an onscreen graphic tribute. Also, the very best fatality comes last.
So, all things Liam considered, how cool exactly is ‘Cold Pursuit’?
The movie will forever be haunted by Neeson’s confession. That said, for those familiar with his usual fare – and action movies in general, really – it’s a rather fresh breath of air that operates on an impressive level of silliness: Even an out-of-nowhere needle drop of the ’90s song “Barbie Girl” doesn’t feel at all out of place. The film is neither straight-up action extravaganza nor all-in satire, but instead straddles both to a satisfying degree.
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