There is often something lost in translation when Hollywood gets its hands on Scandinavian stories and remakes them for English-language audiences. Wry, morbid senses of humour and emotional stoicism that matches the cold settings are generally the first to go when making a film more palatable for mainstream audiences. Where Cold Pursuit sets itself apart from its peers, however, is in keeping these elements. Hans Petter Moland here remakes his own film (2014’s In Order Of Disappearance) and manages to keep a lot of the original’s idiosyncrasies. It doesn’t always work, but this distinct style stops Cold Pursuit from falling into the bland mass of identikit post-Taken Liam Neeson revenge thrillers.
Neeson plays snowplow driver Nelson Coxman, whose consistent small-town existence in the frozen mountains of Colorado is interrupted when a gang of Denver-based drug dealers kill his son. With the body barely buried, Coxman turns his grief into rage and decides to kill his way up the cartel’s ladder, from the lowliest dealer to the kingpin, Viking (Tom Bateman). Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin take their time building their world, introducing us in detail to every member of both Viking’s outfit and a rival Native American gang. It’s an interesting approach, carving out something of a John Wick-esque surrealist world of carefully managed violence, but it does stifle the pace of the story.
After the first couple of kills, Neeson disappears for long stretches in favour of gang-based subplots. While Bateman’s snarling performance makes Viking a compelling antagonist, a lot of the other character deep dives end up feeling like the film spinning its wheels. We also spend a decent amount of time with two local cops played by Emmy Rossum and John Doman, gaining yet another perspective on the escalating crisis caused by Coxman’s killing spree. In fact, the only character left unexplored is Coxman’s wife, a tiny and absurdly thankless role for Laura Dern, who barely registers.
None of the kills, even that of Coxman’s son, have any emotional weight to them and very little is asked of Neeson’s performance beyond looking menacing. Black humour is used in favour of real feeling, raising some laughs and keeping things entertaining throughout. After every kill, there’s a quick title card that lets us know the deceased’s name, nickname, and religious persuasion and though this technique initially seems like an overly obvious affectation, its ever more creative use as the film goes on eventually wins you over. A shaggy dog story that takes a while to get used to, Cold Pursuit as a whole just about pulls off the same trick.