Is Cold Pursuit just Taken in the snow?

Film critic Chris Knight interviews director Hans Petter Moland about remaking his Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance in English as Cold Pursuit

Liam Neeson in Cold Pursuit. Summit Entertainment

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Director Hans Petter Moland would like you to know that his new movie, Cold Pursuit starring Liam Neeson, is not just “Taken in the snow.”

“In broad strokes, it’s a revenge movie,” says the Norwegian director of his first English-language film. “But take a closer look; there’s no one to salvage or rescue, because his son’s already dead. This is a particular way to mourn rather than to save somebody.”

Point taken. Early in the movie, Neeson’s character’s son is killed during a robbery. The culprits make it look like a drug overdose, and the police buy the story and refuse to dig further. And so Neeson, playing mild-mannered Colorado snowplow driver Nels Coxman, goes looking for the truth. Much blood is spilled during his quest.

“He has no special set of skills,” says Moland, referring to the Taken franchise. “He’s just an amateur who’s highly motivated, who’s saddened by what has happened, and who doesn’t care (for his own safety).”

Cold Pursuit is actually Moland’s second take on the movie. In 2014, he made In Order of Disappearance, starring Stellan Skarsgård and set in the snowy mountains of Norway. The film premiered in Berlin and did well on the festival circuit, which is when producer Michael Shamberg suggested a do-over.

“Conventional wisdom says somebody else would do it,” says Moland. “But one of the particular qualities of the original was the tone, and it’s hard to duplicate another filmmaker’s tone.” And so the director’s own “special set of skills” were put to use.

The plot of Cold Pursuit is faithful to the original, but rewriting took more than translation software and the removal of odd Scandinavian letters by first-time screenwriter Frank Baldwin. That’s because there are elements of race and nationalism that wouldn’t play the same way in Colorado as in Norway. Among other things, says Moland, Skarsgård’s character is teased for being “an immigrant from Sweden, which is, like, 80 metres away.”

So whereas In Order of Disappearance features a gang of native Norwegians and another comprised of Serbians, Cold Pursuit turns the Norwegians into casually racist Americans, while the “outsider” Serbians are recast as First Nations. (Parks Canada, troubled by this, refused to let the film shoot in Banff, even though First Nations actor Tom Jackson, playing the gang leader, lobbied on the movie’s behalf. The production eventually found new locations in Alberta and B.C.)

Moland says the remake allowed for some new narrative possibilities, such as a misunderstanding when Jackson’s character shows up at a fancy ski resort and is told he needs “a reservation.” We also see the First Nations group enjoying ski slopes as the Serbs did in the original, “but here there’s a certain wistfulness and irony because of the native Americans’ relationship to the landscape they’re standing in.”

The director brought some of his regular collaborators with him on Cold Pursuit, including cinematographer Philip Øgaard, his costume designer and a few stunt performers. But he relished the novelty of making things anew. “The chance to work with Liam was interesting, and making the film for a whole different audience who hadn’t seen the original and transplant it to a new culture was fun.”

But the biggest draw was probably Shamberg, a septuagenarian producer whose credits extend back to such classics as The Big Chill, A Fish Called Wanda and Pulp Fiction. “If it hadn’t been him asking me to consider it, I don’t think I would have.”