Tag Archives: John Doman

Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit won’t be what audiences are expecting it to be, and these days in Hollywood, that’s a really good thing. There’s a whole string of Liam Neeson genre films since Taken that for the most part are generic vehicles for him to run around in and beat people up. Fortunately, every so often one breaks the mould and turns out to be a fresh, distinguished animal from the rest of the pack, and this is one of them. Yes it’s about a snow plow driver in a small mountain town whose son is murdered by drug dealers. Yes, Neeson plays him as the lone man who takes his revenge in a series of violent encounters and action sequences. But that’s just the blueprint, and honestly director Hans Petter Moland, remaking his own 2014 film, seems far more interested in showing us the casual eccentricities and personal lives of all of these characters, particularly the dealers, than focusing on action alone. Neeson’s initial rampage causes quite a bunch of confusion in the ranks when the local outfit mistakes his mayhem for the actions of a rival Native American gang from Denver, and that’s when the snow really hits the fan. Tom Bateman is a coked up dervish as Viking, head of the local boys, the kind of guy who caps off his own people before breakfast and encourages his son to hit bullies back harder, ‘just for starters.’ The Native American dealers are my favourite part, adding a mystic deadpan quality and distinct class that makes the film seem just this side of a regular action flick. Tom Jackson is charismatic and scary as their leader White Bull, and Raoul Trujillo does a hilarious turn as Thorpe, his second in command. Emmy Rossum is good but slightly underused as an enthusiastic local cop, while John Doman gets a few of the film’s funniest scenes as her less enthusiastic partner. It’s terrific to see the great William Forsythe on the big screen again as Neeson’s ex criminal brother Wingman, an old dog who knows the ropes and seems both worried and amused at his brother’s drastic actions. Speaking of underused though, they’ve thrown Laura Dern a thankless role as Neeson’s wife who simply disappears from the plot like halfway through. A little Dern goes a long way, but she’s given almost nothing to do here. As Liam picks these guys off one by one and they all wonder just what the shit is happening, I found myself much more entertained by the precious little sideshow moments concerning all the criminals, narrative excursions that take huge liberties with the film’s pacing, a choice that I have no problem with. Viking has intense squabbles with his ex wife (Wind River’s Julia Jones) over their son’s ridiculous diet, Thorpe and his crew have a hilarious interaction with a hotel clerk who uses the word ‘reservation’ in a context that makes for the funniest joke in the film, and one of Viking’s boys has interesting ideas about how to bang hotel maids. My favourite is when the film stops dead in its tracks to show White Bull and his guys simply playing in the snow, watching skiers practice and getting one of their guys to hang-glide off the mountain. It’s that sense of playfulness, the care in stepping off the beaten path and giving us something we don’t often see in Hollywood films that sets this aside and makes it something special. It doesn’t particularly work as a thriller because it’s too funny, and won’t land with an emotional impact for the same reason. That doesn’t matter much though, because it’s just fine as a screwy black comedy full of really interesting side characters, offbeat situational comedy and high spirited, naturalistic comedic timing. A barrel of fun if you’re tuned into the abstract frequency. One last thought: I really wish they’d kept the title ‘Hard Powder’ instead of the much less tongue in cheek Cold Pursuit, which feels too run of the mill for a film this idiosyncratic.

-Nate Hill


Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here

It’s amazing to think of the impact felt by a film that runs just under ninety minutes, but Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here lands with force like that of the hammer that Joaquin Phoenix wields here, the violence mostly implied and hardly seen. Right off the bat though: this is not your average vigilante revenge thriller. It isn’t even your average artsy psychological character study. Ramsay is a careful, precise and challenging filmmaker who doesn’t often take on projects (this is only her fourth feature in two decades) and the story she brings here is full of shadows, provocations, shades of grey, unreliable memories, contains a cubist narrative sensibility and is altogether something of a masterpiece. Phoenix gives a coiled, implosive, miraculous performance as Joe, a veteran and abuse victim suffering intensely from PTSD who works as an off the books contract killer to locate missing girls. Hired by his handler (John Doman) to find the daughter of a senator who has been taken, Joe’s mind-scape and internal climate start to clash with what’s going on around him until memory, reality and action start to blur. This is a complex, difficult film and I’ve read many wild interpretations on what’s actually going on, but Ramsay keeps it refreshingly opaque, leaving our intuitions to decide what happened. Ghosts from the past, violent encounters with disturbing individuals, the eventual rescue and protection of the senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), caring for his elderly, unstable mother (Judith Roberts) and uncovering an unsettling conspiracy. It’s all there, but none of it is in plain daylight and the pieces are carefully scrambled to mirror Joe’s disintegrating psyche. We’ll probably never really know what was real and what wasn’t, but that’s not the point anyways, the point is that we feel Joe’s journey deeply, personally, viscerally and that is the genius of both Ramsay’s vision and Phoenix’s performance. The atmosphere is further thickened with a resplendent, layered original score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who uses a varied kaleidoscope of auditory work to let us see through Joe’s eyes. Not a film to be missed.

-Nate Hill