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Cold Pursuit

Year: 2019
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Writer: Frank Baldwin
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe

After the Taken series (starring Liam Neeson) and their many imitators (also all starring Liam Neeson), I wasn't the least interested in this film, but a couple of great reviews piqued my interest. Either Liam had decided to chuck in the endless lazy '21st century fiftysomething action hero' and look for something with a bit more presence, or he lucked out with director Hans Petter Moland, remaking his own 2014 film In Order of Disappearance, but Cold Pursuit is a very pleasant surprise.

Nels Coxman (Neeson) is a snowplow driver in a wintry American small town, a humble man we meet receiving an award from the town for his service and having to give a speech that has him terrified, his loving wife Grace (Laura Dern) helping him with his cufflinks and calming him down.

But Nels and Grace's bliss is shattered when their son is found dead of a heroin overdose. Grace leaves, Nels is distraught, and he's about to put a bullet in his own mouth when a beaten up dude shows up at his workshop. He was captured and thrown into the back of a dingy van with Nels' son courtesy of a Denver drug cartel they both worked for after a deal went bad, and the guy saw them murder Nel's son before he himself escaped.

Nels decides to exact vigilante justice, using the information the beat-up colleague of his son's gave him, find the top dog and take care of him. That top dog is a corporate type who lives in Denver in a nice house, is forever fighting his ex wife over the best care of their young son and is surrounded by lieutenants and other goons.

He's also mixed up with a Native American drug cartel who are by extension roped into Nels' one man war, giving him a videogame-like series of levels to beat, dispatching everyone from hired guns to bosses in a variety of settings and methods that never deviate from who he really is (after beating a guy half to death Nels collapses along with him, panting and exhausted).

It sounds like a hundred other thrillers you've seen before about the lone, desperate man slaughtering his way through armies of goons through sheer force of will or grief, and this could easily have been the same, but it's done with such panache and personality by Moland from Frank Baldwin's script it's impossible not to like.

In a two hour movie with so many characters it's amazing how three dimensional they all are, everyone adorned with their own humour and sense of humanity and adding to the gallows humour of – after every death – their name showing up with a drawing of a gravestone in a series of title cards.

And yes, I did say 'humour'. Though not overtly funny and with no actual gags, the circumstances of some of the action is so extreme it elicits more than one belly laugh. Even though Neeson is a bit one-note in the centre (he's a great actor but never really in this sort of thing), everyone around him really lives and breathes, all of them great actors delivering great lines and giving you the sense of real people rather than just armed minions. Along with the music and design, it's got such an unshakeable sense of its own presence it's one of the best action movies of recent times.

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