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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Cold Pursuit, Review: Too much cold, too many pursuits

Cold Pursuit, Review: Too much cold, too many pursuits

Stylised rendition and slick editing almost save this drug cartels and trail of corpses tale, but only almost. By the time you have attended the countless funerals and shoveled tons of snow, you come out of the cinema as cold as the weather. As the numbness wears out, you realise you have watched just another revenge drama, albeit with a refreshing new take.

Nels Coxman's quiet life as a snow-plow driver (clearing roads after snowfall) in a glitzy Rocky Mountains ski resort town of Kehoe, in Colorado, three hours’ drive from Denver, where he was just awarded Citizen of the Year, is disrupted when his son dies from a heroin overdose. Coxman consumes a large dose of alcohol and points a gun towards his mouth, preparing to kill himself, when he hears some noise. There is a wounded man hiding at the place, who reveals that his son was murdered by a drug cartel. He finds out the name of one of the members, before killing the informer, and turns vigilante, killing several members of the cartel, after tracing them one by one, up the ladder. Even as grieving wife his leaves him, his resolve gets re-doubled.

The boss, named Viking, suspects that these deaths are the work of an American Indian drug cartel, controlled by White Bull, with whom he has earlier avoided conflict. The Indian and Viking’s father had made peace, by allocating turfs, but Viking thinks that White Bull has suddenly become greedy. This sparks a bloody gang war. Viking kills White Bull’s son, but eventually learns that Coxman, and not White Bull, killed his men. He frames one of his own men for the murder and sends the gangsters severed head to White Bull, trying in vain to call off the gang war. White Bull does not fall for it and kills the messenger who brought the head.

Cold Pursuit, originally titled Hard Powder, marks the English-language debut of Norwegian film-maker Hans Petter Moland, and is a loose adaptation of his 2014 film, In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten; I agree that this translates as ‘complete idiot/moron’, not In Order of Disappearance). Nils Dickman, played by Stellan Skarsgård, who was 64 at that time, has been renamed ‘Nels’ Coxman, retaining the pun, but making it less obvious. Originally written by Norwegian writer and illustrator, Kim Fupz Aakeson, the American version has screenwriter Frank Baldwin’s name attached to it. Frank has been doing the rounds for about a decade now, and is recognised for his Black List scripts, When Corruption Was King and The Art Of Making Money.

Probably designed as a black comedy, the film is more black than comedy. With the lead actor’s son murdered and him out on a brutal killing and corpse disposal spree, there is little to laugh about. It takes quite some time to get to the characters in Viking’s gang before the humour creeps in, including a major dig at the name Coxman, and some visibly trimmed (by the Indian censors) scenes involving sex and nudity. Visually too, it is dark, in spite of snow all around, because visibility is poor. Viking is portrayed as a man of varying psychotic traits, including a strict diet regimen for his only son, and delivering a homily on honesty and commitment to a contract killer who changes sides. The gang-members, for their part, are so thick-headed that they just watch as he kills his own serfs, without batting an eyelid, and it takes the hurt of a homosexual goon at having lost his partner to rat on his boss and tip off White Bull. Only one gangster puts up any resistance as Nels keeps bumping them off, and throwing them down a gorge, wrapped in chicken wire mesh, so that the fish can eat the body and it doesn’t surface, bloated. That one encounter seems to be inspired from the line in a Sergio Leone’s classic, The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966), “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” Cold Pursuit definitely owes much to the Western genre, as the director agreed in a TV interview.

Hans Petter Moland would not have needed much effort at reshooting the film after a four-year hiatus, especially since there is a writer on board to adapt it to American audiences, a much bigger budget and star-cast and Alberta, Canada as the locale. In fact, taking his second shot, he could shoot much better hang-gliding sequences, and a longish scene at the luxury resort, where White Bull and his Red Indian gang arrive, to wait for Viking. Some might find the pun on a resort ‘reservation’ vis-à-vis an Indian settlement ‘reservation funny’; others might not get it at all. It’s so American.

In the same age bracket as Moland and Skarsgård, Liam Neeson as the snow-plow operator Nelson ‘Nels’ Coxman is soon becoming the archetypal ‘old man taking revenge for/seeking out a young victim’ ever since he did Taken (2008). His flat dialogue delivery and cold, weather-beaten, vulnerable features do suit such loners, but it is getting all too predictable. Neeson is capable of much more. Laura Dern (The Fault in our Stars, Wild, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Grace Coxman, Nels' wife, has an ill-defined, all too brief role. Tom Bateman (British; Creditors, Snatched, Murder on the Orient Express) as Trevor ‘Viking’ Calcote, a local socialite separated from his wife who doubles as a drug-lord, is as megalomaniacal as they come, only with a crazy-streak added. Julia Jones (African-Red Indian ancestry; Hell Ride, Winter in the Blood, The Ridiculous 6) as Aya, Viking's ex-wife, hams her way through, though you wonder why Viking cannot get the better of her.

Emmy Rossum as Kimberly ‘Kim’ Dash (could Kim Kardashian have possibly inspired this name?), a local detective, andJohn Doman as Gip, Kim's partner, play the looking for action newbie and the lackadaisical veteran respectively, with indifferent and mildly humorous underplay. William Forsythe (Raising Arizona, Once Upon a Time in America, Dick Tracy) is strong as Brock ‘Wingman’ Coxman, Nels' brother, who has mended his ways and now lives with a Thai woman who is a fitness freak. Canadian Christopher Logan (Tron Legacy, Connie and Carla, The X Files) as Shiv looks very much Indian, as in Asian Indian, not Red Indian. (Not be confused with another, senior actor by the same name). Tom Jackson (Canadian; singer, academician; half Red Indian; Deadfall, The Dependable) makes a completely credible White Bull. For the rest, just savour the names: Domenick Lombardozzi as Mustang, Benjamin Hollingsworth as Dexter, Nathaniel Arcand as Smoke, Mitchell Saddleback as Avalanche, Bradley Stryker as Limbo, Wesley MacInnes as Dante, and the contract-killer, a black character named Eskimo. 

Though the Indian version must be definitely shorter than the 118-minute American release, after passing through the sanctifying scissors of the Central Board of Film Certification, it could have been shorter. No fault of the editor, though, for Nikolaj Monberg (A Horrible Woman, Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith, The Shamer's Daughter) keeps the pace going. It is the body-count that needed to be lesser, not the thrills and the humour.

As Nels ploughs his snow-plow through the piles of the white hills, you keep waiting for that moment when his professional skills, other than his wild-life hunting prowess, will come into real play. They sure do, but it would be improper to tell you now when and how. So, remember, snow-plow!

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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