As Liam Neeson continues to prove to be one of the most dependable action stars, Cold Pursuit offers him something with a little more to chew on while it gleefully celebrates his characters’ penchant for revenge. The English-language remake of 2014’s In Order of Disappearance swaps out Stellan Skarsgard’s Nils Dickman for Neeson’s Nels Coxman, and that’s one of the few differences between these two enjoyable black comedy action films. Hans Petter Moland returns to the directing chair to transplant his story of revenge and grief from Norwegian sensibilities to American ones, with varying degrees of success; Cold Pursuit does offer a fun time, but with just enough subplots and questionable inclusions to maintain the original film’s superiority.
After his son is found dead from an apparent overdose on heroin, snowplow driver and recent ‘Citizen of the Year’ Coxman seeks out answers to the suspicious circumstances. While his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), has accepted and grieves her son’s death, Coxman refuses to believe he did not know his own son, and finds out that a local gang is responsible for the young man’s demise. Grief is nothing new to be explored in cinema, but Cold Pursuit does a good job tackling it from two different perspectives, knowing the exact moment when to focus solely on one instead of splitting the attention. By the time a wrinkle is added to the plot, Moland smartly leans into Coxman’s grief over his wife’s, and by that point, all we want is the vengeance he craves.
Unfortunately, that wrinkle added to the plot comes after a few bodies have piled up, and the story introduces a rival Native American gang that feels questionably handled at almost every point. The script goes out of its way to make jokes directed at Native Americans while still trying to tow a line of self-awareness, but that line gets increasingly thin to the point where it becomes difficult to tell whether the film is racist or is just trying to be in jest. Regardless, it’s a move that only exists to provide more bodies to die in humorous and/or violent ways.
What this element also does is provide a gang to root for opposite the very aggressively violent gang led by a man nicknamed Viking (Tom Bateman). We’re first introduced to Viking as he sends his kid to school and tells him to pick a fight with a bully and beat him so that he no longer gets picked on. He then proceeds to tell the child that he should read the copy of Lord of the Flies received as a gift in order to learn lessons on the uncompromising brutality of life. His character is extremely misogynistic, and has a face you just want to punch, making him perfect as the guy everyone hates — even his own gang members. It makes a lot of the gleeful violence more palatable when the people receiving it are really bad people.
However, the major problem with Cold Pursuit is that its narrative isn’t as simple as Coxman thrusting himself in the middle of a turf war in the ski town of Kehoe. The script also throws in two police officers investigating the crime that stay a couple steps behind everyone else; it’s a plotline that never really catches up with the main story, and ends up seeming like filler for the local officials to comment on how nice Coxman is and how much tourists suck. There’s also an entire sequence where the Native American gang is just hanging out at a ski resort in Kehoe, having a fun time for a really long time. These scenes just seem unnecessary, adding virtually nothing to the stakes. They’re pure levity in a film that already carries itself with a level of self-awareness that most movies struggle to attain.
One of the more genius moves is the inclusion of title cards every time a person dies, a cut to black with a white font stating the person’s name and their gang name. It’s a funny tidbit that is used to great effect, like when a gang member slowly dying in the backdrop followed by an abrupt cut to a title card, or when a whole mass of them are murdered, and the title card is filled with names. Combined with some of the inventive kills and humor with which they’re presented, Cold Pursuit strikes a really good tone that feels straight from the Norwegian film. That being said, it’s not necessarily the same kind of humor that American audiences gravitate towards, but that only helps to maintain a quirky tone amidst the carnage.
Cold Pursuit surprisingly warms the heart, even when it’s pushing the limits of its storytelling capacity, despite never quite justifying its existence when the original film is better. Neeson brings a lot to the table, different than what Skarsgard delivers, and those emotional beats stand out in a movie that could easily be devoid of that same emotion. Meditating on grief and how it manifests differently within the Coxman family is well done, and feels like it takes up the perfect amount of time in a movie where most people just want to watch the vengeance reign. Overall, I’d easily take the original In Order of Disappearance over this, but it’s still a fun time, especially for action fans.
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Written by Frank Baldwin
Based on In Order of Disappearance by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Starring Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, Laura Dern
Music by George Fenton
Cinematography Philip Øgaard
Edited by Nicolaj Monberg