America’s ‘Cold Pursuit’ of European Action Cinema

Earning just a little over $10.4 at the box office this weekend, Liam Neeson’s latest revenge drama Cold Pursuit sputtered into third place. While it is hard to deny that the controversy surrounding his use of racist rhetoric while promoting the film hindered the film’s financial chances, I think there are several other factors that contributed to its floundering failure at the box office. First and foremost, we are tired of this particular game.

Since Taken redefined his persona in 2008, Neeson has spearheaded ten grizzled action ass-kicker roles: The A-Team, Unknown, The Grey, Taken 2, Non-Stop, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Taken 3, Run All Night, The Commuter, and Cold Pursuit. Maybe we take out The Grey and replace it with Battleship, or one of those Clash of the Titans extravaganzas. A few years back he threatened to retire from these physically absurd endeavors, but then came The Commuter and Cold Pursuit, and he still has Honest Thief waiting in the docket.

So, yes, we’ve seen Neeson pushed to his limits in a variety of situations, and we’ve enjoyed a multitude of mutilations perpetrated in the name of vengeance. As is our want, we’ve beaten the dead horse; it’s time to move on down the stable and find another stallion to ride into oblivion. Or not. Depending on the fallout of his apology tour he could crank out another ten of these blunt instruments before shuffling off this mortal coil.

Whether we allow him to recommit to this genre or not, can we at least agree to ease off the European action movie remakes? Cold Pursuit is based off the Norwegian thriller In Order of Disappearance starring Stellan Skarsgård. The plots are nearly identical and revolve around an upstanding citizen who spends his days plowing roads free from snow and his nights tracking down the gangsters who killed his son. Skarsgård went by the name of Nils Dickman while Neeson goes by Coxman. Hmmmm. Yes. I see what they did there.

Cold Pursuit is a deeply faithful adaptation due in large part by the fact that the original film’s director, Hans Petter Moland, jumped across the pond to direct his own remake. The result is a strange viewing experience for anyone familiar with the original. While Moland allows for some variation, several of the original film’s most memorable moments are closely replicated for American audiences. The only deviation stemming from how Neeson and the other new actors interpret the sequences.

Comparing Cold Pursuit to Neeson’s more recent adventures, the film is a dark, glum affair. In films like The Commuter or Non-Stop, the actor emits playful accessibility to the action absurdity. That is not present here. Cold Pursuit is very much rooted in the dark nature of Scandinavian thrillers. While it never scrapes the bottom of moral depravity in the same manner that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is all too happy to partake, Moland does delight in the nasty business. There are no winks winked.

I may be ready to move on from the Neeson action vehicle, but I am even more so willing to flee American remakes of Nordic horrors. We just don’t have it in us. David Fincher may have brought a lot of money and style to his The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo remake, but it was a defanged, hesitant interpretation. At the very least, just as Stieg Larsson’s bestsellers were quickly consumed here in the states, Fincher’s film fed an appetite. This at-the-time salivating Scandinavian hunger from audiences would have to wait seven years before the arrival of a Hot Topic sequel and by then a distaste for such gluttony had developed. The Girl in the Spider’s Web took in less than a third of its production budget domestically.

Al Pacino was another actor who tried to follow in the footsteps of Stellan Skarsgård. In Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia, he played an apathetic police detective on the trail of Robin Williams’ serial killer. Beyond the gimmick of a night-less arctic setting, the film drastically reduced the venom of its lead character. Where Stellan was allowed to be scum, Al had to carry some possible redemption. The best thing Insomnia did was prove to Warner Bros. that Nolan had the dramatic chops to revitalize Batman from Joel Schumacher’s Day-Glo hell.

Hollywood is remake hungry, and nothing will change that. The way they see it – what works for one filmmaker/audience should work for another filmmaker/audience. Yet, rarely does the European action film redo result in box office glory. Cold Pursuit is just the latest Brick Mansions, Contraband, The Gunman, and Pathfinder. American studios won’t succeed with this particular point of view until they find confidence in their dark hearts.

Brad Gullickson: @@MouthDork Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.