Fear the snowplow! Though that's not the central message in Hans Petter Molandís Cold Pursuit, it is certainly a bit of good advice that goes unheeded by a number of hapless victims in this quirky noir thriller that turns the genre on its head with a barrage of wry humor and enough dead bodies to fill a graveyard two deep. The film is an English-language remake of the Norwegian drama In Order of Disappearance -- also directed by Moland -- and the snowplow is driven by Liam Neesonís character. And we all know Neesonís propensity for revenge in these types of films -- especially when his Nels Coxman character discovers that his son, Kyle (MicheŠl Richardson) was killed by some really bad guys who thought -- incorrectly -- the kid was involved in the disappearance of large batch of smuggled cocaine. So, yes. Fear the snowplow!
But wait, this isnít the typical Liam Neeson revenge thriller, despite what the trailers are trying to tell you. Yes, there is a dominant theme of revenge, and yes, Neesonís character exacts it in any number of creatively horrific ways. But there are also plenty wink, wink moments of self-awareness throughout, as well as a wonderfully unexpected sense of dark humor that threads its way through the proceedings. We quickly realize that Moland is in on the joke and it isnít long before we are too. The result is a delicious medley of noir tropes and action sequences that get tossed and turned in so many enjoyable ways.
The film opens as the mild-mannered Coxman (yes, fun is had with the name numerous times), is being recognized with the Citizen of the Year award for Kehoe, Colorado, a small ski resort town in which he and wife Grace (Laura Dern) live along with their teenage son. Coxman has spent his life keeping the townís roads open throughout the brutal winters during which snowfall is measured in feet, not inches.
After receiving the tragic news of the death of his son, Coxman does what every faithful Neeson character does best: he turns into a stone-cold revenge killer. But as he methodically kills his way up the bad guy ladder, Coxman begins to realize that there are some bigger and much more powerful guys at the heart of the mystery, and he soon finds himself caught in the middle of a turf war being fought between two rival drug lords.
One is Viking (Tom Bateman), a petulant man-child who, when not obsessing over the gluten-free diet of his pre-teen son, is stomping his feet and barking out orders to his vast network of subordinates; guys with names like Limbo (Bradley Stryker) and Speedo (Michael Eklund). In a round-about way, and brought about by Coxmanís vendetta, Vikingís bunch is drawn into a war against rival crime lord White Bull (Tom Jackson), the head of a mob of Native American gangsters with names like Windex (Ben Cotton) and Avalanche (Mitchell Saddleback).
Thereís an ongoing side-plot involving the local Kehoe police department as the bumbling keystone cops who are always a day late and a dollar short reaching the crime scenes. But one officer, played by Emmy Rossum, is getting closer and closer to cracking the case.
Major props go to Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin who dish out their perfectly-paced story with equal amounts humor, violence, exposition, and style. It is very easy for a filmmaker to lose control of the proper tone in a story with this many moving parts. But Moland clearly knows his subject matter and has a firm grasp on what it is he is trying to do. Nearly every character is addressed with somewhat of a backstory, and the film is divided up into distinct chapters, each framed by a black title card announcing the death and name of each villain. Following one particularly bloody scene, about a dozen or so title cards pop up at once, highlighting the insanity of what just happened.
Donít think Cold Pursuit is all fun and games. Itís a Liam Neeson revenge flick and all that that entailsÖ plus some. Though the violence approaches exposition levels at times, Moland deploys the uniquely stylish trick of suddenly cutting away from the filmís most brutal moments to shots of crimson-stained snow, or the crunching thud of hammer to celery. Cold Pursuit is bloody, violent, funny, unabashedly irreverent, and even brilliant at times. But most of all, it is just plain fun to watch. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and stay away from snowplows.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated ďRĒ for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.