Liam Neeson has cornered the market in angry father-turned-avenger films since 2008’s Taken. In fact, he seems to have done so many of these films over the past 11 years that he has created a whole new action movie sub-genre. These films, for reasons unknown, have been very much transport themed (hence the sub genre). He has been an avenging action hero in fast cars and taxis, a plane, and even a train. Just when you thought the avenging-patriarch-commuter genre had been well and truly milked Neeson turns up in Cold Pursuit as an avenging father with a…. snow plough?
If this all sounds to you like solid straight to DVD fare then it’s a perfectly understandable judgement. On paper we think we know exactly how this is going to play out. In fact, If the actor hadn’t decided to arguably commit career suicide with his controversial race hate confession during promotional tours for the film, then this film might very well have passed unnoticed straight out of theatres and onto Netflix without much fanfare. However, if the soundtrack is anything to go by then let’s not be too hasty to condemn it.
The first rule of low budget action movie making is to spend what little budget you have on a fading star actor (tick) to give as big a return for the money men as possible (rule 2 is that the film must be shot in Bulgaria, for some reason, but that’s beside the point). Apart from everything else this usually leaves next to nothing for a proper film score, so the soundtrack is usually a basic one-man synthesiser and drum machine job. Functional and forgettable. Yet this is where the soundtrack to Cold Pursuit comes as such a surprise. Indeed the choice of scorer is in itself an eyebrow raiser.
READ MORE: Cold Pursuit – Review
George Fenton is a veteran film composer who has scored everything from Oscar-winning films (Dangerous Liaisons in 1988) to BBC Nature documentaries (Blue Planet, Planet Earth). He is a much-respected composer who has been nominated for 4 Academy Awards, Grammys, Golden Globes and has won Baftas and Emmys. He has scored many prestigious films, television programmes and theatre productions and produced music with considerable range, subtlety and style. What he is not generally known for, however, is muscular, knuckle-dragging action music.
Fenton instead has approached the score with a surprisingly delicate touch This doesn’t mean that it lacks muscle in the critical moments. Far from it in fact – when he needs to, he knows how to deliver a musical punch. Fenton chooses the strings of the mandolin to give an icy, East European feel to the film’s central theme. This helps locate the story in the snowy landscape of Colorado in the winter. There is power and strength throughout as you would expect in an action movie, but Fenton paints from a broad musical palette.
There are plenty of light steps too. This is a film with a dramatic central story, but told with off-beat humour at times. It is quite reminiscent of the kind of Indie-mainstream crossover films that were so popular in the 1990s. The soundtrack also hits similar off-beat notes and this makes for a lively and idiosyncratic listen. Fenton, at times, blends icy mandolins with buzzing electronic bass and harder electronic beats (made in partnership with the English music producer Dan Carey). This gives the overall soundtrack a contemporary feel.
READ MORE: The Prodigy (Joseph Bishara) – Review
Fenton has written a soundtrack a cut above the average Liam Neeson flick. It does not follow the familiar action movie pattern, as it offers something a lot fresher and more now. It has a varied and interesting structure, without losing power and impact when it needs it. If there is a complaint then, thinking of the person who might want to actually buy the soundtrack, many of the tracks are extremely short, in fact some are under a minute. After a while this makes for a bit of a frustrated listen as the track starts and builds and then stops abruptly. These amount to nothing more than musical cues rather than fully-formed movements. However, overall George Fenton has produced a skillful and, at times, engaging piece of music that is absolutely worthy of a listen.
Let’s hope that, just as for the film, action fans look past Neeson’s indiscretions and give this snow plough spin.
Cold Pursuit: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is now available from Varese Sarabande.