If you aren’t prepared to laugh in death’s face, then you might want to skip the dark comedy Cold Pursuit. The higher the body count, the bigger the laughs.
Cold Pursuit is an English language remake of the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, made by the same director, Hans Petter Moland. Certain expected tweaks were made to transport the film’s setting from Norway to Colorado, but the tundra-like winter landscape, which is essential to the plot, is maintained.
At first glance, it might seem like just another Liam Neeson ass-kicker, and that’s not completely wrong, but it would ignore the tightly constructed ensemble surrounding Neeson that gives the zippy plot all of its hilarious hijinks. The original one plays in the same cinematic space as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or The Ladykillers, in that bunches of criminals all come together, but not in the way they think they are. These movies all use characters who are so egotistical that they think they know everything, when the lesser amateurs are actually pulling the strings.
Neeson stars as Nels, a father who has lost everything. Soon after his son was killed by a local drug gang, and the death was covered up to make it look like an overdose, his wife left him and he gave up the will to live. Just when he hits rock bottom, he gets a nugget of information that might help him get a bit of revenge. Getting the name of the man who’s the first link in the chain that leads up to a drug kingpin sets Nels on his quest to kill every single man whose actions led to his son’s death.
But Nels is not your typical Liam Neeson character killing machine. He’s a simple snowplow driver, and he has to learn along the way how to kill and then how to clean up the mess. He’s not quite as unskilled as the main character in Blue Ruin, but if that character were placed in this dark comedy it might look pretty similar. As Nels works his way up the crime syndicate ladder, the crime bosses start to pay attention, and their rival gang gets falsely accused of starting this spontaneous turf war. Add in a new and eager police officer in this sleepy sky town, and we have ourselves a proper farce!
As each person dies, their name is displayed on screen, as if this these intertitle cards were cinematic tombstones. The light and peppy soundtrack, along with the editing’s focus on the laughs instead of the blood, keep Cold Pursuit squarely in its comedic stance even with so much death. The editing could be tighter, to further heighten the satire of these absurd circumstances, but overall it keeps the mood light and moving quickly. Even with such a large cast, the plot and allegiances are easy to follow, and not mucked up with any superfluous character development or unnecessary asides.
Dark comedy is a difficult balance to find, and Cold Pursuit does a pretty good job of making us laugh while we watch people die.