Cold Pursuit | Hans Petter Moland | February 8, 2019
Cold Pursuit isn’t your typical first quarter Liam Neeson fare. It’s actually a remake of Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance (on Amazon and Netflix, if you haven’t seen it yet) from director Hans Petter Moland, who steps back into the director’s chair to remake his own film, this time for an American audience starring Liam Neeson (Stellan Skarsgard in the original).
Nels Coxman (Neeson) is a humble snowplow driver in the snowy little town of Kehoe, best known for its ski resort. He enjoys a simple life with his wife Grace (Laura Dern) and son Kyle (Micheál Richardson), and he’s a beloved community member – even winning the town’s Man of the Year award.
After accepting his award, his life changes when his son is tragically killed by someone who sets it up to look like a drug overdose. Nels takes action seeking vengeance and begins hunting those behind Kyle’s murder. Nels’ quest for revenge takes him on an unexpected journey into the world of a territorial drug war between two groups.
The first is Viking (Tom Bateman, previously supporting in Murder on the Orient Express), the short-tempered and quick-triggered head of a local gang. He and his gang mistakingly assume that a rival Native American gang led by White Bull (Tom Jackson) are the ones behind Nels’ actions, and end up breaking a truce of some years between the two gangs in a hasty act of violence. This catches the attention of two local cops, Kim (Emmy Rossum) and Gip (John Doman), who are confused by the sudden onset of violence in their ski resort town.
Moland takes the dark comedic touch from his original and keeps the same train of thought with a slightly more American sensibility. Most fans will go into Cold Pursuit expecting just another action film starring Neeson, but it subverts those expectations with a dark sense of humor that gives it a whole new dimension. Like a wicked hybrid of Fargo, In Bruges, and a yet-to-be-made Coen Brothers film, Cold Pursuit blends violent action and humor as if they are a pairing that the other couldn’t live without.
The humor works to a more consistent degree in the original, with some aspects failing a bit short here – maybe a bit lost in translation, if you will. But similarly, there are some troublesome aspects from the original (such as a burst of domestic violence and a four-letter C-word) that are altered this time around during what is a much different sociopolitical landscape than it was just five years ago.
After watching the original, my biggest fear going into Cold Pursuit was that I would find myself endlessly comparing the two to the point where it would be impossible to enjoy (like with Miss Bala). Of course, I made my fair share of mental notes of the differences between the two, but as the film went along, I found myself able to just enjoy this film as its own separate entry and take it in for what it was, which was undoubtedly a sign that it was working.
The film may play a bit too absurd for some, but for someone who thrives off a daily dose of dark humor, I enjoyed a lot of what Cold Pursuit had to offer, even if it does so at varying levels of success. Liam Neeson is almost too obvious of a good fit for the violent aspects that the role calls for, but he also leans into the weird comedic aspects to great success. Opposite him, Tom Bateman is completely chewing the scenery as the villain, and although his America accent sounds like a strange imitation of Heath Ledger’s Joker, I enjoyed seeing his descent into madness.
In some ways, the rest of the film feels more like an ensemble rather than a full-on supporting cast, with each member getting a chance to shine, mainly Tom Jackson’s White Bull and Raoul Max Trujillo as his second-in-command. Sadly, both Emmy Emmy Rossum and Laura Dern feel wasted here, as both are too good to feel as though the film has forgotten them.
Cold Pursuit will play differently for each person depending on their sense of humor and the way that integrates into the violence, but I have a feeling that this will be a film that finds a cult-like following over time, no thanks to the lackluster marketing for the film that didn’t highlight its absurd humor as a selling point nearly enough.