Cold Pursuit is the latest iteration of a Liam Neeson revenge thriller; instead of Liam-Neeson-on-a-plane, Liam-Neeson-on-a-train or Liam-Neeson-with-amnesia (all Jaume Collet-Serra films, natch), we have Liam-Neeson-on-a-snow-plow. This isn’t another Taken take-off, though. Cold Pursuit is in fact an English-language remake of 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance (aka Kraftidioten) by the same director, Hans Petter Moland. The casting of Neeson is undeniably canny, allowing the director to reimagine his black comedy for wider audiences – though opening up some unintended subtext in the wake of Neeson’s recent comments – but somewhat undermines Morland’s morbid sense of humour in practice.
I very much liked In Order of Disappearance, and by-and-large this iteration of the film doesn’t make any drastic changes. There’s a new cast, naturally, and the setting is transplanted to the Rocky Mountains, but the core narrative – father seeks revenge for his son’s murder and ends up sparking a bloody gang war – remains the same, to the point of adapting certain scenes shot-for-shot. Moland also retains the memorable intertitles underlining each character’s death (and, oh, there are many), providing a wry, Vonnegutian sense of absurdity and morbidity. The first version of the film featured a vegan druglord; here – played to the hilt with campy excess by Tom Bateman – he’s a fastidious organic-only eater.
The movie’s tackling of contentious issues – race, drugs and violence, mostly – doesn’t always hit the mark, but Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin paper over anything truly problematic with calculated nonchalance. Yes, it might earn some inappropriate laughs here and there, but Cold Pursuit’s heart is generally in the right place. For example, Liam Neeson’s characters brother ‘Wingman’ (William Forsythe) has a younger Vietnamese wife who’s initially portrayed as a shrill gold-digger, but proves to have an open, authentic relationship with her husband. The swapping of a Serbian gang in the original film for a Native American gang works wonders, too, allowing Baldwin to underline a theme of disenfranchisement with modern society that was less pronounced in In Order of Disappearance. You need to have a dark sensibility to enjoy the humour here, but it’s not entirely flippant.
Where Cold Pursuit stumbles as a feedback is in the casting of Neeson. While it’s undeniably a smart move economically – you’re going to sell half your tickets off the back of “Liam Neeson is Mr Plow” – Neeson is a poor replacement for Skellan Skarsgård. Not because he’s an inferior actor, necessarily, but because Skarsgård exemplified the ordinary-man-gets-swept-up-in-a-maelstrom-of-violence hook that impelled much of the original film’s humour. The joke of In Order of Disappearance was that this ordinary schlub could legitimately threaten the livelihood of a sprawling organised crime gang. But ever since Taken – which reinvented forever what “a Liam Neeson movie” meant – Neeson has profited by leveraging his natural gravitas and authority to anchor revenge films. There’s never any doubt that his character will outmanoeuvre his drug-trafficking enemies, which undercuts what Cold Pursuit is trying to achieve.
Still, this is a fine film for an audience on its wavelength: droll, violent and frequently surprising. The big question, though, is whether or not this is worth your time if you’ve already seen In Order of Disappearance …and I have to conclude that the answer there is almost certainly “no.”