Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, John Doman, Emmy Rossum, Tom Bateman
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 118 minutes
Synopsis: Welcome to Kehoe, it's -10 degrees and counting at this glitzy ski resort in the Rocky Mountains. The local police aren't used to much action until the son of unassuming town snowplow driver, Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson), is murdered at the order of Viking (Tom Bateman), a flamboyant drug lord. Fueled by rage and armed with heavy machinery, Nels sets out to dismantle the cartel one man at a time, but his understanding of murder comes mainly from what he read in a crime novel. As the bodies pile up, his actions ignite a turf war between Viking and his long-standing rival White Bull (Tom Jackson), a soulful Native-American mafia boss, that will quickly escalate and turn the small town's bright white slopes blood-red.
Release Date: February 7th, 2019
Director Hans Petter Moland and Liam Neeson team up for a dramatic thriller that mixes icy revenge and dark humor.
"It's a whirlwind of vengeance, violence and dark humour."
- Liam Neeson
"A whole can of worms." That's how Liam Neeson describes what his character opens in Hans Petter Moland's blisteringly violent and bitingly hilarious Cold Pursuit. "My character goes out on a path of vengeance, but doesn't realise what he's getting himself into," says Neeson. "He thinks he's going after one guy who killed his son. In actual fact, it all escalates into a whirlwind of vengeance and violence. And it all has this grain of dark humour running through it, if you can imagine that!"
This twisted revenge story swirls around Neeson's Nels Coxman, a snowplow driver in the Colorado ski resort of Kehoe. Just named Citizen of the Year for his services in keeping the roads open to the remote town, Coxman's life swiftly spirals into amateur retribution and an escalating pile of corpses when his son (played by Micheál Richardson) is mistakenly killed by local gangsters over a stash of missing drugs. All he knows about killing people is what he read in a crime novel, but Coxman sets off with a sawn-off hunting rifle, and unwittingly begins a chain of events that will include a snowbound turf war, kidnapping, two rival crime lords and a host of hoodlums with colourful nicknames like Maverick, Mustang, and Smoke.
Comparisons to classic Coen brothers movies – Fargo, in particular – greeted Hans Petter Moland's original Norwegian film, In Order Of Disappearance, when it came out to rave reviews, stunning global box office and starring Stellan Skarsgard in the lead in 2014. Other fans drew parallels to the depth and wit of dialogue of early Quentin Tarantino. But while Moland is "obviously delighted" to have his work placed in those two ballparks, for him, he has his own unique style with his inspiration going back further to a classic Hollywood great. "I grew up loving Billy Wilder movies," says the director. "I loved their darkness and their gallows humour, that great balance between the two. So when I was offered the chance to remake In Order Of Disappearance, this time in English [as opposed to his native Norwegian of the original], I took it."
The idea to have Moland personally remake his own original came from producer Michael Shamberg, a man who, having produced the likes of Pulp Fiction, Out Of Sight and Get Shorty, knows a fresh crime movie when he sees one. "The best part of my career has been working with singularly talented people," says Shamberg. "When I saw In Order Of Disappearance, it had everything. And Cold Pursuit is the same. Audiences will be emotionally invested in the characters, satisfied with it as an action film, and also be surprised by how funny it is. It's a film where that balance has to be just right, and that's why Hans Petter had to be the one to do it. And in the center of it all is the wonderful Liam Neeson who brings his classic man of action persona and then delightfully goes in a new direction with it."
It's also a story about multiple other twistedly complex characters, not least the two other fathers that Nels' journey will slam him into. The first is Viking, the psychotic local drug lord played delightfully unhingededly by Tom Bateman. The second is White Bull, played by Canada's legendary actor and folk singer Tom Jackson, who brings a soulful gravitas to his rival gang leader, who runs his gang of tough Native Americans – who are as deadpan as they are deadly – with a dignity that will be tested to its very limits. "These are all bad guys. There are no good guys in this movie. So you have to start there, and then decipher, 'Well, how bad is that guy?'" says Jackson of a conflict that will end with gallons of blood spilled across bright white snow. "Remember The Wild Bunch? Remember those movies? I think this is one of those. It's as entertaing as any other movie I've been in."
For his remake, Moland brought along much of his key original crew, but also enlisted a new screenwriter, Frank Baldwin, and a supporting cast including Laura Dern, as Coxman's wife Grace, Emmy Rossum, as smart small-town cop Kim, and Julia Jones, as the long-suffering wife of Tom Bateman's ridiculously unhinged cartel chief, Viking. "In the movie, the female characters are the ones who are smart enough to distance themselves from the actions of the men, or their stupidity"
laughs Moland. "The men in the movie are domineering, self-important and oblivious to the humor. They are deadly serious. Or dead."
Baldwin's screenplay has particular fun with its cast of richly drawn, bickering bad guys – "The stakes are deadly," says the screenwriter, "but the men are massively self-important, and that's where the humour comes from" – but Moland's original inspiration was a serious one. "The original idea came from me thinking, 'If my son died in this way, would I just sit back and accept that happened? Or would I do something about it? And would it just lead to an endless escalation of violence?' It's kind of a heavy theme, well suited for a dark comedy," Moland says. "There was a desire to not be restrained by genre, to allow different genres to happily live next to each other, to be genuinely horrifying and tragic, but also worth laughing at – like life is."
The result is something genuinely unique, a movie with incredible action, shot through with an undercurrent of knowing humour and played out by one of the most brilliantly drawn, sprawling supporting casts in recent memory.
"And that's why this remake had to have Hans Petter directing it," says Shamberg. "That tone is such a fine balance that I think only he could do it. This isn't your typical revenge movie. It's a movie about the futility of vengeance. It's an anti-violence, violent film. Which is a little bit of an oxymoron, because you get to have your cake, and eat it too!"
High Standards, Low Deeds " And An Undying Legacy
In a story filled with complexity, the inclusion of Native American characters was essential" even as COLD PURSUIT puts absolutely everybody in the crosshairs.
"I liked the idea that those who some view as 'strangers' are, in fact, on their own land." " Hans Petter Moland
Vengence knows no boundaries: In Cold Pursuit, that notion extends from the quiet man, Nels Coxman, who thought he had escaped his family's blood legacy to the descendants of indigenous people butchered and betrayed.
Yet even among this tapestry, the character of White Bull " played with steely soulfulness by Tom Jackson, the esteemed Canadian actor, artist, and educator whose mother was Cree and who grew up on the One Arrow Reserve in Saskatchewan " stands apart. White Bull's protection of his family and his territory is in direct relation to his values and his history. He is a man who was offered a chance when he was younger to stand close to the same playing field as those who long looked down on tribal people. Now, at age 70, White Bull is a criminal force to be reckoned with " though in keeping with the business he runs, he has attained his stature by unethical, and illegal, means.
"Film history is full of Westerns where Native Americans are merely used for plot purposes, or used as adversaries based on preconceived notions " they've been seen either as savages, ruthless warriors, victims, or just something else that serves the white point of view," says director Hans Petter Moland. "In my original film, the Serbians " or 'Albanians,' as they are often mis-called in that film by other criminals " were the classic strangers in a strange land, who then discover hidden aspects of Norway as the fiIm progresses. For Cold Pursuit, I wanted to explore the idea that those who some view as 'strangers' are, in fact, on their own land."
Says screenwriter Frank Baldwin, "When we did the table read in Vancouver before principal shooting began, I spoke with Tom Jackson and a number of the other First Nation actors that Hans Petter had cast in the film, and they said it was so much fun to have actual dialogue in a movie. Because they were used to having one line and then their character would get shot."
Moland says a number of factors went into his desire to have one corner of the criminal triangle in Cold Pursuit be a Native American syndicate.
"I had a great interest prior to this in American history in general and the plight of American indigenous people, and how they were pushed off of their own land and had to suffer as a nation," Moland says. "I'm not going to pretend that I'm an expert in the issues and history of indigenous people. That would be wrong, and Frank did research prior to the writing stage. But what I did do was during rehearsals, I learned a lot from the actors. They carry with them a lot of their history, or knowledge about their own history, and that was invaluable because it informed me and the film about what possibily their characters might spring out of."
Unlike in the original Norweigian film, having this crime gang be Native Americans on land their ancestors lived on creates another kind of tension with Viking, who audiences see develop another level of awfulness and villainy as he denigrates White Bull's people's history on the land. "Viking thinks this piece of Colorado around Denver and Kehoe is all his territory because his father, Bullet, was here before him," explains Baldwin. "It's another level of his myopia of course, since Viking has no understanding of anything larger than that. Yet Viking's ex-wife, Aya, is Native American too, so there's that complication. Plus, from a screenwriting standpoint, it also felt like this was the type of gang that hasn't been very often in movies, if at all. As compared to the original, in which Albanians, or Serbians, had been done a lot. They show up as villainous gangs in a lot of movies. And for this film, it was interesting and fun to show White Bull's team of gangsters having quirky conversations, and expand their personalities and show they had their own peccadilloes, just as Viking's men have, if not more so."
There is also, of course, more than a grain of truth in terms of the issues facing the Native American population that " while fictionalized and sensationalized for the purpose of a thriller " have echoes in Cold Pursuit.
But of course, another major factor in Cold Pursuit is its irreverence, and the way it props all of its characters, no matter who they are, up for a bit of puncturing and humor. And though White Bull is always a man of dignity, there are moments when Viking or other characters show their ignorance by using stereotypes " or even when some of White Bull's own gang get the upper hand in a situation or two by exploiting the sensitivity around them.
Overall, there is a universal sort of eyebrow-raising at the ridiculousness and folly that is a human existence, whether it's lived as a criminal or as a "citizen of the year."
Says Moland, "This is a film that takes an irreverent jab at everyone. That's the satirical element of it." Adds Baldwin, "Part of that is Viking " he is who he is, and he disparages everybody and uses derogratory labelling, which is very telling in regards to figuring him out. He gets his licks in no matter who he's dealing with, or who his adversary is at the moment."
The notion of Viking taking aim at a group that is so "other" is illuminating, the director says. "It's this idea that it's convenient to have an enemy " somebody Viking can degrade by putting a label on them and perhaps call by a derogatory name. That mechanism is certainly part of the less-favorable aspects of being human. Here, Viking feels entitled and superior to everyone, whether they're black or gay or Native American or whatever, and being able to belittle somebody by putting a derogatory name onto them is part of that mechanism for him."
What none of that does is take away the enjoyment White Bull and his gang have in their day-to-day life, the warmth they feel or the quirkiness with which they view their jobs.
"White Bull is the leader of a criminal gang and is ruthless and has the potential for violence, but there seems to be a lot more fun to White Bull's gang, which says something about his capacities for leadership. He's not threatened by people being individuals. His guys are not afraid of enjoying their lives " even when they're on a boring stakeout, their individuality shows. You know, they're smoking pot, poking fun at each other by throwing snowballs."
And, in a pair of memorable scenes that involve hang-gliding, there are subtle meanings " and a memorable send-off for one character in the film.
"To me, that hang-gliding scene is the Native American gang simply enjoying the greatness of the landscape they are in," says Moland. "White Bull is enjoying the playful grace of the young skiers, and for his men I think it´s simply the joy of seeing one of their own soar like an eagle. There´s something elementary about wanting to fly. Seeing it done so successfully by someone they know, who´s clearly not a pro, but who just reaches for the experience out of childish desire, brings joy to their hearts….And yet even the one man that momentarily defied gravity eventually comes crashing down."
"Although tongue-in cheek, this film can also be viewed as a cautionary tale about revenge. Pursuing it catches up with you eventually, no matter how nice you are."
Welcome To Kehoe
The modern American West provides a chillingly perfect setting: a snowed-in ski resort town with a dwindling population.
"Because this location is so remote, the story seems to take place out of time, in a way."
" Frank Baldwin
"Mother Nature never ceases to amaze, does it," marvels Liam Neeson of the showstopping location of Cold Pursuit. "There were a few times when we were filming up in the mountains that I thought, 'The audience aren't even going to be looking at me on screen, they're going to be looking at these billions of years-old mountains behind me.'"
But even though he is somewhat underestimating the power of his performance, it's easy to understand what Neeson means. Doubling as Cold Pursuit's small Colorado ski resort of Kehoe – a place where, as Emmy Rossum's local cop, Kim, has it, "Folks come here to ski, have sex and get high" – this Alberta location is a character in its own right in Cold Pursuit, and key to its chilling power.
The production spent the first four weeks of shooting up in the Mount Fortress mountains, battling extremely hazardous conditions at 2,000 feet above sea level to deliver something truly spectacular on screen. "There were some days," laughs Moland, "where you would ask yourself, 'What am I doing dragging everyone all the way up here?' But then you'd watch the dailies back and realise that it was 100 percent worth it."
On screen, the result is a startling juxtaposition. On the surface, Kehoe is a tranquil destination, designed for fun and sporty relaxation. But, under its smooth, white powdery surface runs a bloodred river of murder and mayhem. Frankly, as a holiday spot it's about as safe as taking a moonlit skinny-dip off Amity Island.
On set and at that altitude, shoot days would start off relatively calm. "And then suddenly you'd get into these blizzards and heavy, heavy snowfalls and stuff," says Neeson. "It was very, very dramatic and beautiful, and cold, which was necessary for our film. It was lovely getting up there, and it was equally lovely, at the end of the day, to get back down again."
For Moland, aside from the extreme weather fluctuations, the constant changing of the light made continuity a struggle, and for the rest of the cast multiple layers were a daily necessity. But for Neeson, who used to drive forklifts and trucks for Guinness back in the day, the snowbound locale also brought with it some nice added bonuses.
"For this movie I had to drive three different snowplows," he says with a smile. "We had a wonderful guy, who showed us how to drive them. My gosh, they're extraordinary machines. When you're in them you're just aware of this power, this metallic power you have underneath you. These things can gobble up snow and shoot it 50 metres away! They are beautiful machines. And I had the privilege of driving them, just for short periods of time. It gave me a newfound respect for these guys that clear these roads. Those locations may look pretty, but there's a real harshness at play here too."
"One of the strongest impressions I had from watching Hans Petter's original is that, because this location is so remote, this story seems to take place out of time, in a way," says Baldwin. "I wanted to preserve that sense that this place isn't really governed by all the normal rules because it's so far out. It makes it easier to go with what's happening in the sense that these people are getting away with this stuff because it's so remote and so snowy and there's so many long stretches with no people around. The remoteness is really important to this story, both in the feel it gives you and in the sense of, 'You've got to make your own rules out here.' And that's kind of a classic American theme of the West."
Release Date: February 7th, 2019