Directed by Jason Lapeyre
Written by Jason Lapeyre
When it comes to leading parts for female actors in cop and action films, the landscape is relatively barren. Even where such parts exist, rare as it is to begin with, all too often the roles are sexed up to the point where the believability factor is wiped out. Indeed, there appears to be no place for women in films where the grit and the grime are prominent, films that get really down and dirty and require the protagonist to go through hell before reaching the finish line. If things are to change, some filmmaker and some actress will have to rise to the challenge and prove audiences that such a film can be made and be credible. Enter director-writer Jason Lapeyre and star Zoie Palmer, who collaborated on Cold Blooded, shot in Toronto (making it one of the few Canadian films to earn screen time at this year’s Fantasia film festival), one of the real surprises to emerge out of the Canadian film industry this year.
Officer Frances Jane (Palmer) is requested to take the night shift at a downtown hospital and guard a patient in one of the establishment’s more secluded wings. This is not any ordinary patient. Cordero (Ryan Robbins) is a jewel thief who was part of a sizable operation earlier that very day with his colleagues. Despite his best efforts, Cordero was caught and his partner found dead beside him. Now the criminal is not only facing charges related to theft, but murder as well. While making small talk, Cordero tries to convince Frances that he never dared killed anybody, least of all his own partner. Frances will have none of it, preferring to keep to her own, get through the night shift and head back home afterwards. Unfortunately for her and Cordero, the latter’s boss, one Louis Holland (William MacDonald) has arrived at the hospital with some cohorts and plans to retrieve the diamonds and liquidate Cordero if need be to prevent him from testifying against the gang. Louis, however, is not someone to be messed around with, and before they know it, Frances and Cordero have to form an uneasy alliance if they are to make it out of alive.
In some crucial ways, Cold Blooded plays out much like a classic action film from the late 1980s, Die Hard, with the lone cop protagonist having to thwart the plans of an entire gang over the course of a single night in a mostly empty building. Understandably, Cold Blooded, though it loosely uses that same premise, does so on a much smaller scale. There are no gargantuan explosions erupting in elevator shafts here. Lapeyre’s picture is more akin to a thriller sprinkled with comedic elements than it is an outright action-comedy. The most significant difference is naturally the fact that a woman takes centre stage, although her presence creates an effect which goes far beyond any simple notions of differentiating the movie to Die Hard. When it comes to films of this ilk, female protagonists are a rare breed. To witness one such movie where the creative team deliberately opted to take road less traveled is commendable it its own right, but to see the splendid results that come out of it is even more engaging.
Cold Blooded is, simply put, rousing entertainment, the only possible caveat being that some scenes feature significantly hard-core bodily harm. It offers a little bit for everybody, save romance, which it wisely keeps far away on the sidelines. Virtually all action thrillers feature a romantic angle of some variety, so a little reprieve will probably not hurt anybody. Palmer and Robbins are a perfect match, playing characters who upon first glance come across as two polar opposites, yet as the story evolves and each reveals a little bit more about themselves, the audience, and the characters, realize that they resemble one another far more than they had ever imagined. Still, the fact of the matter is that each represents different sides of the law, the enforcer and the breaker. Because of that, their partnership constantly operates on slightly shaky ground, proving the film with some of its more cleverly written and acted moments. Zoie Palmer gives the character of Frances tremendous range, displaying courage, humour, compassion and some good old school steadfastness worthy of a movie cop. The audience can accept her as a woman and as a tough officer once the gangsters make their presence known to her and Cordero. That level of believability is what makes the character and is what so many other leads, be they make or female, lack to a certain extent. Frances is not superhuman, she can bleed (boy, does she ever in this film), but the more the antagonists test her, the harder she keeps coming back to slow them down. In contrast, Ryan Robbins is more of a softy. It eventually becomes clear that Cordero is not the sort of personality who would crazily gun down a man in cold blood and, in truth, wants to least amount of trouble possible. That being said, he is a trickster and more than once attempts to mislead others into a false sense of security. William MacDonald is excellent as the top villain of the piece, capable of being equally conniving and murderous in a single scene.
Cold Blooded also succeeds in its tonal consistency, which is beneficially choppy. ‘Inconsistent’ is not quite the the most apt term, but suffice to say that from one scene to the next the viewer is uncertain of what they are about to witness. Director Jason Lapeyre keeps the proceedings just light enough with some welcomed banter between the two leads, banter which sounds believable as opposed to awkwardly shoe horned in, all the while upping the ante with regards to the physical and psychological suffering lived by the characters. At one point, the lone doctor working the night shift (Huse Madhavij) is tied to a chair by Holland and his cronies, who proceed to mentally torture him by revealing, with proof via their cellphone, that unless he cooperates with them his family, currently in captivity, will surely die a horrible death. Frances herself bears the brunt of plenty of physical abuse, one such attack proving to be utterly shocking, to the point where gasps were audible in the audience during the screening. The level of violence in Cold Blooded, even though there is not that much of it, goes well beyond what one sees in regular PG-13 material. The danger level is clearly set, with the sort of peril the protagonist finds herself unmistakable.
Jason Lapeyre’s film came as a pleasant surprise when it had its Québec premiere at the Fantasia film festival last week. The poster is enough to make one believe that what awaits them is an incredibly gory horror tale, which is a little bit strange from a marketing perspective. Needless to say, odd one-sheet poster choice aside, Cold Blooded is full of fun surprises, feature tremendously entertaining characters and takes its violence very, very seriously. It can be just as funny at times as it can be visceral. In a sea of mediocre Canadian films, Cold Blooded emerges as reason to celebrate.