It’s not often that directors get a second crack at their own work. But Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland has undertaken the task of remaking his own 2014 revenge thriller, “In Order of Disappearance,” for American audiences, now titled “Cold Pursuit.” With Moland behind the wheel, he can ensure the preservation of the film’s dance of tone, which is bone-dry, ice-black, darkly violent and laugh-out-loud funny. Liam Neeson stars as Nels Coxman, an unassuming Colorado snowplow driver avenging the death of his son at the hands of a ruthless Denver drug syndicate (and no, this is not the movie from the end of “Daddy’s Home 2”).
The snowy setting and gratuitous bloodshed recall the Coen brothers’ Midwestern masterpieces — especially “Fargo” — but while Emmy Rossum sports a fur cap and a can-do attitude as a small-town cop, she’s not doing Frances McDormand. The similarities are there, as well as hints of Tarantino and even moments that recall Jonathan Glazer’s gangster drama “Sexy Beast,” but “Cold Pursuit” is entirely its own animal.
Neeson does not stray far from the wounded-heart father routine he’s perfected since “Taken,” which has become cultural shorthand for “vengeful dad.” Part of the fun of “Cold Pursuit” is watching Nels maintain that earnest composure as the world spins out of control around him, becoming increasingly more preposterous as he peels back layers of the crime organization in his small ski resort village of Kehoe. He plows through henchmen nicknamed Speedo and Santa and Limbo, trying in vain to discover who’s responsible, to lessen his grief.
The genius of “Cold Pursuit” lies largely in the supporting cast, who play the oddballs against the ramrod straight Citizen of the Year Nels. Tom Bateman is a breakout, snarling his way into infamy as the snide playboy drug kingpin Viking. As a father, he is the polar opposite of Nels — a cold, calculating control freak — and Bateman leans into the absurdity of his character, drawing the most laughs but maintaining a shred of realism. Domenick Lombardozzi brings real nuance to the role of one of Viking’s heavies, Mustang, while Tom Jackson offers another shade of fatherhood as White Bull, a Native American drug rival of Viking’s seeking revenge for his own son. When the three fathers collide, the results are explosive.
The plot is complex but the story is simple. It’s a tale of fathers and sons, of blood on the snow, and hearts black as ice. “A son for a son,” declares White Bull, and the story follows this notion to its bloodiest ends, as the body count piles up. The film asks you accept the lost lives of the victims as some kind of sacrificial offering in the pursuit of justice for a son.
“Cold Pursuit” doesn’t have the existential ponderings of the Coens, nor indulge too much in the splashy outlandish pleasures of Tarantino. There are hat tips and head nods, but rather, the film boasts a bleakly nihilist Scandinavian outlook. One might wonder what it all means, but to ponder the questions of existence and morality in Kehoe is a fool’s errand. It’s almost a bit fun that “Cold Pursuit” creates a world in which we don’t have to — where we can let go of morality and convention for a couple of hours and delight in the darker side of life.