February 23rd 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Something rotten led to fish-kill: perhaps fishy environmentalism

EDITORIAL Resistance grows to Beijing's soft-power push

CANBERRA OBSERVED Climate change: deadly ... to political leaders

TECHNOLOGY Electric cars: UK taxpayers subsidise rich greenies


CYBER SECURITY Chinese smartphone threat extends way beyond Huawei

SOCIETY Such grandeur of spirit

POLITICS John Hewson should have as sturdy a Constitution

FINANCE Hayne royal commission sets agenda for bank reform

FAMILY RELATIONS Dad: a girl's first and most influential love

COMMENTARY Words gone feral: rights and equality

MEDICINE AND CULTURE Book captures tragedy of falling foul of a fanatic

SOCIETY AND CULTURE A dog's life: reflections of a grey nomad


MUSIC Serialism a killer: Ideas tend to get in the way

CINEMA Cold Pursuit: Revenge served up manic

BOOK REVIEW Why the West and nowhere else

BOOK REVIEW The escalation of horror and atrocity


FAMILY AND SOCIETY The end of Liberalism

SPECIAL EDITORIAL Has Cardinal George Pell been wrongly convicted?

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Cold Pursuit: Revenge served up manic

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, February 23, 2019

The reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and James I saw the rise of a type of play later critics have dubbed the “revenge tragedy” or “blood drama”. These, unsurprisingly bloodthirsty, dramas had a simple hook: a wronged man seeks revenge by killing those who wronged him and usually dies in the process.

However, while the basic idea might have been simple, the execution could be quite sophisticated; exploring themes of psychology and theology, politics and interpersonal dynamics, with a tone ranging from high seriousness to black comedy. By tapping into a primal impulse, these tragedies reveal the raw humanity lying beneath the surface of civilisation, offering a critique both chilling and enlightening.

The very primalness of these stories gives them a continued resonance, one reinforced by the audience’s empathy with the anti-hero. For the anti-hero is someone let down by the system, justice denied through corruption or indifference. In cinema these stories tend towards the serious and solemn, coupled with elaborately violent, stunningly constructed set pieces where a highly capable protagonist single-handedly takes on a villainous empire.

At first glance, Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit – a remake of his 2014 Norwegian In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten) – seems like just another story about a man seeking revenge for his son’s murder. However, Moland flips many of the contemporary conventions upside down to make a darkly comic thriller about an ordinary man who does some extraordinary things, often almost by accident.

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a snowplow driver in the fictional Rocky Mountains resort town of Kehoe. That’s it. He has no special set of skills, no vast arsenal of weapons or high-tech ex-government contacts. He doesn’t say much. He’s driven the same road every day for years and has just been named “Citizen of the Year”. He tries not to think about the road not taken.

This changes when his son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson) is found dead of an overdose. Nels can’t believe his son was a druggie, but his wife Grace (Laura Dern) can, thinking they failed as parents and didn’t know their own son. And the police are completely indifferent.

Nels is about to shoot himself when he is interrupted by the beaten and bloodied Dante (Wesley MacInnes), a colleague of Kyle’s from the airport, who confesses that Kyle was killed by drug dealers. Nels follows up on the lead and proceeds to kill his way up the criminal hierarchy, causing chaos in the process for local drug lord Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman).

Viking blames a Native American gang led by White Bull (Tom Jackson). He decides to make an example of one of White Bull’s drug runners, not realising the man he kills is White Bull’s own son, starting a gang war. At the same time, the finicky Viking is attempting to parent his young son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes) with natural foods and Lord of the Flies as a handbook for life.

Cold Pursuit is a black comedy about incompetence that echoes those of the Coen brothers. The crooks may be violent, but thinking through the consequences of their actions is not their forte.

Apart from the new officer, Kim (Emmy Rossum), who’s gung-ho and excited, the police seemingly consider work a distraction. And Nels is an old man who is not that fit and who gets his tips from crime novels. White Bull is the only character with any nobility – and he’s a brutal crime lord.

Revenge tragedies can range from the grandeur of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the savagery of his Titus Andronicus, but they come into their own with the magnificent ruthless insanity of The Revenger’s Tragedy (once attributed to Cyril Tourneur, now to Thomas Middleton) or the plays of John Webster or John Ford.

These stories often act as an exercise in catharsis, while also being cautionary tales. The audience experiences the justice that was denied being done – but they also see the toll it has on the avenger and those around them. Cold Pursuit is more in sync with the latter than the former and shares with them a rage turning into bitterly mocking resignation at a world that often doesn’t make sense.

However, its icy humour has no answers, just the recognition that the questions are real. And when that humour melts from the memory, the question becomes: what will be remembered?

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm