You could say we’re pretty taken with him

#SGWatch4U is our screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.

Liam Neeson has had a long and fulfilling acting career, from historical classics like Schindler’s List to mainstream blockbusters Star Wars and Batman; even a lesser-known stint as Jean Valjean in a 1998 film adaptation of Les Miserables. So it’s a bit of a shame that after 2008, this great Irish talent has seemingly become defined by his work in the Taken series.

Reduced to a long string of memes about looking for and finding and killing people, Neeson practically became the poster boy for revenge thrillers as we entered a new decade of movie-making. His first film after the Taken trilogy wrapped in 2015 was an action thriller mob film called Run All Night, followed by forgettable cameos and narrator credits in various other genres. Cold Pursuit is his latest return to the genre (after 2018’s The Commuter)—and an unexpectedly fun one, complete with tender moments, a fair amount of bloodshed, and loads of laughs.

In the wintry (fictional) ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado, Neeson plays Nelson Coxman, a quiet snowplow driver who’s just been named “Citizen of the Year”. When he’s not clearing roads in the day, he’s at home being the gentle family man to his wife and son. All seems well in his simple life, until his son is callously murdered at the hands of a local drug cartel—and the vengeful fatherly instinct kicks in.

If you were expecting a typical Liam Neeson revenge thriller, you’re right—for about a third of the movie. Cold Pursuit doesn’t rely on its lead actor’s tried-and-true hitman typecast to drive it. Rather than focusing entirely on Coxman’s bloodstained revenge path, it takes pains to introduce other plotlines—the lifestyle and portrayal of the cartel’s drug lord “Viking”; a rival Native American drug cartel, led by the stony-faced White Bull; the dynamic between two local cops. Seemingly unrelated, they converge in a meaningful climax that ties up all the loopholes, but is still killer fun to watch.

The movie is of the black comedy genre, so expect the humour to be dry, dark and delicious. Neeson is no classic comedian type; instead, he works with expert framing and mise-en-scene to tease out laughs at the tensest moments. He kills with no hesitance; but he also rolls his victims in chicken wire and throws them down an icy waterfall, in a majestic act of revenge. Throughout, a note of sensitivity bubbles under his steely ‘silent father’ persona, endearing him to audiences even as he’s smashing someone’s face in.

The film is also a bit of a love letter to snowplows, which feature prominently and hilariously at multiple points in the film. Like Neeson’s character, they’re often placed in juxtaposing situations—one moment as roaring metal machines that eliminate snow and human flesh alike; the stars of an unconventional bedtime story the next.   

It has to be a deliberate move that some of the scenes bring to mind the nauseating Twilight franchise. White Bull’s long-haired, olive-skinned cartel members frolicking in snow-capped mountains too closely resemble Jacob’s werewolf pack, while Viking’s men are as cold and white as indestructible vampires get. Thankfully, Cold Pursuit maintains higher ground with smart and sassy comic relief and a general undertone of sarcasm.

The most enjoyable aspect of Cold Pursuit is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, especially towards the end. With luck, this subversive, humourous take on his pet genre will be Neeson’s shot at shaking off the Taken memes, once and for all.

Cold Pursuit opens Feb 21 in Shaw Theatres.