Film reviews

Cold Pursuit – Review

Years ago, I read about a movie in development called Hard Powder. I laughed so hard at the synopsis that I literally cried. It sounded positively absurd, and I wondered aloud who in their right mind (besides me) would buy a ticket.

Then a friend shared that it was based on a Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten), starring Stellan Skarsgard. When I watched that, I discovered a darkly-comic action film with philosophical underpinnings. It was clever and beautifully photographed.

Later, they changed the name of the American version to Cold Pursuit.The name wasn’t as enticingly awkward as Hard Powder, but a rose by any other name, as the Bard said. It was, after all, being adapted by the original director, Hans Petter Moland.

In short, I was ready for an authentically-adapted Cold Pursuit to prove itself an unexpected gem. When a great concept is adapted to new cultural sensibilities, there’s real opportunity to explore fresh angles while playing with the universality of the story. After all, Seven Samurai begat The Magnificent Seven.

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Unfortunately, Cold Pursuit is unable to adapt itself to new settings. After its beginning makes clear its intention to closely ape concept, structure, specific moments, sets and gags, you settle into a rhythm that has all the charm of a Xerox copy.

There are some half-hearted attempts to mold it to “outside Denver, Colorado,” but none of it feels authentic. Changing the rival gang into Native American drug dealers rings false since they retain the characteristics of the Eastern Europeans in the original. The actors are left with little to do other than play faint echoes in different costume. A fantasy football reference feels like pandering, and a question about “who was the better quarterback” plays like something out of a lesser Schwarzenegger work. The entire experience feels like conversing with someone who knows your language but hasn’t grasped the idioms.

Liam Neeson could play a role like Nels Coxman while asleep, and part of the problem is that it feels like he is. You yearn for him to show any life in his eyes. Laura Dern briefly appears as Grace Coxman, Nels’ wife, presented in a strangely unsympathetic light and without the same impact. While none of the supporting characters feels as substantial as they should, I will give credit to Emmy Rossum and John Doman for having a few sparks of natural chemistry, and being one of the highlights of the whole thing.

Tom Bateman plays the Americanised villain (The Viking in this version), herein a one-note comical exaggeration of criminal overlord. Part of it the issue is his performance, all growl and affectation, but to be fair he’s hampered by incongruous changes to the power dynamic between him and his ex-wife.

If you’ll forgive a minor spoiler, a shocking and uncomfortable moment during In Order of Disappearance is when The Count strikes his ex-wife. You realise this highly-regimented sociopath is losing his self-control. The scene is recreated in Cold Pursuit, but she dodges his strike and grabs his genitals to make him submit. It’s a cheap laugh at best.

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If a murderous drug kingpin striking a woman was deemed too much for the new audience, it’s better that they cut or restructure the moment, than rob him of menace. I honestly believe that this specific change was made over simple fear about social media reactions. (His final line in this version of the film is also criminally robbed of the venom that made it unexpected and memorable.)

I think a substantial part of the problem is that it’s a director adapting his own work. It would have been better to give the reins to someone inspired to stretch and adapt, recognising that different settings call for different sensibilities. I guess it’s similar to a champion football coach going to a different club. The skillset is there, but unless he adapts to the new variables, he’s running the wrong scheme for the talent.

A friend asked me the fair question of whether I’d have judged Cold Pursuit as harshly as I have, had I not seen In Order of Disappearance. It’s a fair question, so I asked another friend who had seen Cold Pursuit without the original, to be the control and share his opinion. His opinion lined up with mine, and that’s the best I can do to confirm my answer that the movie is disappointing in any circumstance.

Cold Pursuit is the worst kind of remake: a pointless one. You’ll have a better experience if you log onto your preferred streaming service and watch In Order of Disappearance.

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