Opening 28 Feb 2019
The Coxmans, snuggled in the mountains above the ski resort of Kehoe, have a good son and marriage. Receiving a community award, Nels (Neeson), the man of few words says, “ (I’m) just keeping civilization open for people … picked a good road early and stayed on it,” drawing an analogy with Robert Frost’s well-known poem, The Road Not Taken. How prophetic those words will become. Later, after identifying the corpse, Nels disbelievingly balks at the police axiom that his son overdosed on heroin; a deep schism forms between he and Grace (Laura Dern). A single lead sets the devastated father on to a new path; every tip takes him deeper along a purposeful road. When confounded, he turns to Brock (William Forsythe) who knows the way better. Concurrently, the wealthy, vicious and heavily guarded “Viking” (Tom Bateman) assumes business partners, the Ute Indians, are behind his problems; by the time he realizes otherwise, White Bull’s (Tom Jackson) decided what Viking’s hasty judgment will cost him. Meanwhile, a police detective (Emmy Rossum) starts piecing local oddities together that news out of Denver confirms; Nels changes direction taking young Ryan (Nicholas Holmes) along for a possibly life-altering, thrilling ride. Nevertheless, comfortably encased in the monstrous snowplow, Nels plows forward undaunted as he navigates the courage of his conviction.
Everything about this film is artistically distinctive and absorbing, including deft strokes of gallows humor, e.g. a trail of black cards bearing crosses. Director Hans Petter Moland scrupulously tells a multilayered, dark and chilling tale. It is a remake of the Moland directed Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance, 2014); Frank Baldwin’s “killer contract” was to reposition Kim Fupz Aakeson’s Norwegian thriller into an American gangsters underworld scenario. The film’s lifeblood is the contrasting lead characters’ personality: Neeson’s law-abiding, grief-torn father’s astonishing single-mindedness, and Bateman’s bullying sociopathic evilness. The great cast gives substance to each character’s idiosyncrasies.
Not since The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), has cinematography emanated such snowy, machine-driven menace that Philip Øgaard offsets by intuitively probing characters’ facial/ body language, and Alberta, Canada’s breathtaking scenery that sometimes overshadows everything else. Editor Nicolaj Monberg’s forte is cleverly slicing in particulars with need-to-know timing. George Fenton’s music emotional range—playfully joyful to malevolent trembles to indigenous chants and drumbeats—match onscreen action. With a body count à la Tarantino, Hard Powder forges a uniquely sophisticated “road … in a yellow wood” to illustrate how sometimes the road not taken can lead to retribution. (Marinell Haegelin)