COLD PURSUIT (Hans Petter Moland 2019): What Makes a Remake?


What goes into a remake?

There are various reasons for doing a remake of Hans Petter Moland's wintry but blistering revenge tale, In Order of Disappearance aka Kraftidioten, which appeared in Norwegian four years ago. It's fun. It's outrageous. It swings along at a jaw-dropping rate with its series of killings. First Stellan Skarsgård,'s (movie) son, an airport employee, turns up dead. The morticians say it was a drug overdose but dad knows otherwise. His wife is quick to blame the son, causing a rift, and her departure from home. He goes on to start killing the members of the drug gang that's responsible. Hey presto! This touches off a violent feud between the gang and a powerful criminal clan of Serbians (led by none other than Bruno Ganz). The crosses that appear on the screen to record each successive killing explode in the final battle till the cast is nearly wiped out. That most of the names have criminal monikers attached adds to the charm.

Kraftidioten is nasty fun. Moland, working with the script by Kim Fupz Aakeson, maintains in it a keen Nordic edge between the brutal and the absurd. It is grisly for the imperious Norwegian boss, known to his underlings as "Greven" or Count (Pål Sverre Hagen), to sever the head of one of his underlings and send it off to the Serbians as a peace offering, but this is handled with ceremony (messenger beware in this tale!). Greven, though, played by the tall, rangy Hagen, is a spoiled psychopath who we know to be ludicrous as well as dangerous. His electric car and vegan diet aren't very macho, and his ex-wife makes fun of him.

As for aggrieved dad Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård), his job itself is metaphor enough: the giant snowplow he runs. It relentlessly sweeps away the deepest drifts along the local road. His uprightness is underlined by the civic award he gets at the story's outset. The avenging Dickman is an irresistible force, driving forward ever fiercely and sweeping all away in his path. Skarsgård is terrifying and selfless in this role.

Directors normally don't do remakes, but sometimes they do. Those Norwegians - their English is so good! Moland has announced that he saw doing the job over again in English as "a second chance at making scenes even better." One may admire him for his sense of craftsmanship and loyalty to the tale. At the same time one hopes he will move forward to other themes and more various scripts in his future outings.

Let's not forget the commercial aspects. Movie making is a practical affair. For Hollywood to do a remake it must look like a winner. When they got Liam Neeson, the Irish prince of revenge flicks, to take over Skarsgård's part, with "Dickman" judiciously altered to "Coxman," it secured the production. Neeson's "Taken" series is a winning franchise. He's one of the guaranteed box office sexy oldsters of our time. But that also is a curse. Neeson threatens to overwhelm this little movie, which belongs to its mechanisms and its violence, not to its personalities. Already there are articles headed, menacingly, "Is 'Cold Pursuit' Just Another 'Taken'?"

This is not good. On the one hand you want the audience to come to this new movie fresh. On the other, you want them to have seen In Order of Disappearance so they can appreciate what they're getting, and not confuse it with a franchise. It's off-putting, also, to have the handsome Tom Bateman take over the gang leader's role, which had belonged to somebody impressive, but also unmistakably a little odder and more frail - a little, well Nordic. And come to think of it, Skarsgård captures a Nordic desperation and gloom in the original Neesan can't match. Neeson's relentless, but not crazed or desperate. And that's a loss.

Nonetheless, as a fan of the original, I can't complain about the loyalty of the man who penned the new screenplay, Frank Baldwin, who despite adjustments for the new location, is faithful in an astonishing number of details - while Moland duplicates the setups of many of the shots. This is a remake indeed. It shows little imagination, but it captures many, many details, even to Dickman, now rechristened Coxman, reading the publicity pamphlet for his snow thrasher to the little boy, "Viking's" son, whom he's kidnapped, and the boy cuddling up to him in bed and saying, "Have you heard of the Stockholm Syndrome?" If the vegan gangster boss's more exotic expensive electric car in the original, a rare Fisker Karma, is replaced by a mere Tesla, we understand. Elon Musk must have his way, and the American audience must get what it knows.

They are well-served by Moland this time in his adept remake of his own film. The result, <a href="">as I noted</a>, is is as satisfying an artifact as the cineplex could hope for in the pre-Oscar "dump season" I like to call the Winter Movie Doldrums. It's wintry to an extreme, and evokes the original's inspired perversity. But a remake as slavish as this one, while it can satisfy addicts, up to a point, also lacks the fresh material in which style can bloom, or critics can get excited. And let me say again (this being itself a remake of my original thumbnail review of Cold Pursuit): the astonishment of the original is hard to repeat.

Cold Pursuit, 118 mins., released in many countries including the US 8 Feb. 2019; in the UK two weeks later. Metascore 59 (original 74).