This movie opens as all revenge movies do, with a good man (or woman) driven to the limit.
In this case, the man is Nels (Liam Neeson), who speaks little but drives a really really big snowplow through the Colorado mountains. And he’s modest: “I’m just a guy who keeps a strip of civilization open,” he says. He also receives a citizen-of-the-year award from his town, a ski resort.
Then some bad guys — drug dealers, natch — bring a shipment to town on a private jet and, apparently without provocation, kill Nels’ son, Kyle (Neeson’s own son, actor Micheál Richardson) by injecting him to the point of overdose and dropping his body at an outdoor cafe in Denver.
Nels is gripped first by despair and then by rage. He vows to take out every member of the drug gang, bottom to top, and makes a pretty good start on the project.
Then the plot veers off in other directions. Turns out the Denver-based drug kingpin, a guy known as Viking (Tim Bateman), and his minions are fighting with a Native American drug gang for territory. There’s a long, not very credible story about how this animus arose, but it takes us to the point where Viking’s thugs kill the son of White Bull (Tom Jackson), the Native American paterfamilias who wants Viking’s son killed as revenge.
Viking, like Nels and White Bear, is a loving father. He is also persnickety, taking time away from planning violent hits to order his estranged wife to feed their school-age child a very specific, very healthy diet.
Then it’s off to the races or the snow plows or whatever. The action shifts from Nels vs. Viking to team White Bear vs. team Viking. If you can get past the gore of it all, it’s pretty funny with amusing asides about a mismatched team of police officers, the native enforcers playing at a white man’s ski resort and Nels’ brother’s odd life and travails.
Call it a revenge movie, but with many exaggerated characters around the edges. This seems intended to convince the audience that the whole thing is a big goof and not a Tarantino-esque shoot-em-up.
In fact, this film has been made before. The earlier version was “In Order of Disappearance,” a popular 2014 Norwegian movie, that, from the look of its trailer, included all the same plot points and included all the humorous distractions. That film’s director, Hans Petter Moland, directed this American version.
In short, the movie is wacky and worth a watch. But I have one question.
If Liam Neeson’s character spends his days and nights plowing furrows in mountains frosted with deep snow and attending funerals in icy cemeteries, why doesn’t he wear gloves or a hat or at least zip up his parka?
Revenge Stories: A Brief and Selective History
Stories where good people (or gods) seek revenge have been popular since at least the time of Homer, whose “Iliad” and “Odyssey” are full of such themes.
This is not difficult to understand. A boiling rage and the urge to act on it inspire writers and playwrights and musicians and actors.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is his most famous vengeance play. Almost 400 years later, Disney released a more kid-friendly treatment of the same idea with “The Lion King.”
Giuseppe Verdi composed three operas around the theme — “Aida,” “La Traviata,” and “Rigoletto.” Georges Bizet gave us “Carmen.” There must be many others.
If children still read adventure books (a big if,) then “The Count of Monte Cristo” is still a popular title as well as the subject of three or four films. There also are innumerable children’s movies about teaching bullies their well-deserved lessons.
There are women’s revenge movies, including “Carrie,” “Nine to Five,” and “Kill Bill.” There is a 70-year-old Bergman revenge film, “Virgin Spring,” that still is studied in film classes.
Here in the US, the revenge film seems to have become the province of middle-aged actors who are cast as family men enraged by violence done to their wives and/or children. Think Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and, for the last decade or so, Liam Neeson.