Directed by Hans Petter Moland. Starring Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe.
The Plot: In the snowy wilds of Colorado, Nels (Liam Neeson) works as a snowplow driver and keeps the roads clear to his little corner of civilisation. He’s an upstanding citizen too, recently voted Citizen Of The Year by his town. When his son turns up dead after a botched drugs deal, Nels discovers that he didn’t really know him. He sets out on a rampage of revenge, bumping off leads and following the trail of cocaine to Denver bigwig The Viking (Tom Bateman). The Viking thinks it’s the work of The Bull (Tom Jackson), a Native American bigwig whose turf is Nels’ town. As Nels stirs the pot and heats things up between the two drugs gangs, the bodies start piling up. The unassuming Nels carries on though, intent on taking out The Viking…
The Verdict: As the old Klingon proverb tells us, revenge is a dish best served cold (actually, it’s a Sicilian proverb). It’s become the tagline for Cold Pursuit, a suitably chilly but cosy American remake of the darkly humourous 2014 Norwegian film In Order Of Disappearance. Stellan Skarsgard has been replaced by Liam Neeson, in a more sombre action man role than we’ve become accustomed to. The fact that original director Hans Petter Moland is also helming the remake is a sign of confidence. Directors remaking their own films can be a dangerous game. It worked for Alfred Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much, but it didn’t work for George Sluizer and his lacklustre American remake of The Vanishing. Moland brings some of his Norwegian sensibilities to an American setting with varying results.
Cold Pursuit is at its best in the first and third acts. We can readily accept Nels as a good citizen, enhanced by Neeson’s innate everyman quality. When he turns to violence, it’s a sharp left turn borne out by Nels reading about killing in crime novels. For someone who apparently hasn’t killed anyone before, he makes it look easy. Apart from the first kill, who won’t stay dead. For this is a film that laughs in the face of death, keeping track of the mounting bodies with onscreen obituaries (as with the original). The third act sees the plot threads gradually coming together and getting entangled, along with a quirky sub-plot involving Nels kidnapping The Viking’s far-too-willing son. Moland builds to a mostly satisfying and bloody conclusion and repeats the hilarious closing shot gag with a wry smile.
The film falters in the second act though. With this reviewer rather enjoying Nels’ sudden turn to violence, it’s surprising that Moland chose to leave him for a good while. He slows down the plot in order to focus on the crossfire between the competing drugs gangs and their colourful codenames. Bateman makes for a rather bland villain whose only character trait is an obsession with healthy eating. More interesting is White Bull, but he isn’t given enough room to develop into a proper character. Even with two hours to play with, supporting characters and actors are short-changed here in order to pump up the black comedy aspects. It’s not as darkly funny as the original, a possible fault in the translation. Norwegian humour is very on-the-nose and some of it comes across as toned-down and filtered through an American voice – for better or worse here. That’s the way of American remakes of European films.
In essence, Cold Pursuit is a lukewarm American reheat of a memorable Norwegian film. When it works, it scores points and does its job of being both entertaining and frequently funny. Even with the casting of Neeson, it’s not quite the action film that it initially seems. It’s often slow and much more of a quirky character piece, which we can at least be thankful for. Had a Hollywood hack tackled it, it would just be another Taken clone. Worth pursuing, but track down the original as well.