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The Cold and Unrelenting Pursuit of Movie Absolution

Many factors contribute to one’s movie-going experience. There is the film itself and then there are more extraneous elements, such as the theater being attended, the audience members by which you find yourself in darkened and closed quarters with for a couple hours, and even less inherently movie-like components such as the weather and your own state of mind. Friday night was the perfect storm of negative contributing factors being poured on me like a spilled coffee in my lap. Yes, I could have at any point gotten up, cut my losses, and tried again another day, but that’s not who I am. When I start something, I will do whatever it takes to see it through to the end, no matter the cost. So I sat there, the coffee blend of misery soaking into my loins, sincerely wondering if movies would ever be good to me again.

The story begins Thursday evening, at which point I had decided that I would go see Cold Pursuit the following day, the new film starring Liam Neeson and directed by Hans Petter Molland. Being that he is a director I was unfamiliar with, I wanted to give a previous film of his a watch beforehand, something I often do. His most popular film on Letterboxd, In Order of Disappearance (2014), is streaming on Netflix. Great! Excellent! Perfect! So I gave that a watch and thoroughly enjoyed it. Stellan Skarsgård stars as a man who plows snow in the mountains of Norway for a living and upon the death of his son, sets out for revenge, murdering countless drug pushers in a dark comedy thriller. It’s a perfect little late-night Netflix watch and I’d recommend it to anyone (just make sure you switch it from English dubbed to Norwegian with subtitles).

In Order of Disappearance 1
Kristofer Hivju and Stellan Skarsgård in In Order of Disappearance. Dir. Hans Petter Molland.

All was well, and I was greatly looking forward to seeing what Molland would be able to do with his quirky sense of humor in an American setting and in the mold of one of Liam Neeson’s many revenge thrillers this decade. I left the office for the weekend and set off to a theater I had never attended before, a tiny, run-down little shack of a cinema that had a couple elderly ladies working the ticket booth, looking like they had just got done serving country-fried steak at the middle school cafeteria. I grabbed my ticket and walked down the dark and empty hallway towards my screening. A pack of preteens stood outside the entrance, the two over-confident male delinquents sizing me up as I stepped inside. “Please don’t let them be coming in here,” I thought. They didn’t, which was great, only the reality of the situation quickly became far, far worse.

I sat in the middle of the theater, as is my preference. It was a very small seating arrangement, one typical for those discount theaters that generally show movies weeks or months after their release, with uncomfortably old-fashioned seats and minimal leg room. As things would shake out, the room settled into five quintants of viewers. To my left was a middle-aged man also sitting alone, and to my right was your quintessential elderly couple. In front of me were a couple of broish bros and directly behind me a couple of elderly women. Such set the stage for what would be a painfully eventful next couple of hours.

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Liam Neeson in Cold Pursuit. Dir. Hans Petter Molland.

At the movie’s outset, Liam Neeson is shown snow-plowing his way through the powdery mountains of Colorado. “Huh, this director must really love snow plows,” I thought. We then see him give an acceptance speech upon winning an award for his service in the town, the same as Skarsgård’s character in In Order of Disappearance. “Huh, why would the director do that same thing again?” Then Neeson’s son is murdered, and it hit me. I started noticing the same shots, the same beats, the same lines of dialogue. These weren’t similarities, they were copies. I was watching the same movie as I had not even 24 hours earlier, an American remake set in Colorado instead of Norway and starring Liam Neeson in place of Stellan Skarsgård. I palmed my face in a heap of despair and anguish. Several times over the next few minutes I would slowly lift myself off the seat as I debated walking away from the pain, but ultimately I decided to fight through it. Never before had I walked out from a movie and I wasn’t going to start now.

Within a few minutes I came to realize that the old ladies behind me were going to be of the type that would talk to each other throughout the duration of the film, gasping at any hint of violence, muttering, “Oh no..,” “Why would he do that?” and “Oh my God..,” intermittently. The man to my left, at least 10-20 years my senior, seemed to be consumed with his cell phone on a biological level, seemingly seizing and going into convulsions were he not able to do some leisurely scrolling up and down on his phone every ten minutes. The bros in front of me had a riotous good time with the film, which I could appreciate. The one guy on the right was wildly enthusiastic, apparently having just snorted several lines of the movie’s Colorado cocaine and finding it to be the most hilarious comedy of the 21st Century, laughing with his gut at even the smallest of jokes. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAHAAHA,” “OHHHOHAHAHAHAHA MY GODDD!!!” Somehow, his enthusiasm seemed to make everything a little less funny. The ladies behind me didn’t seem to appreciate it either, mentioning at various points throughout their color commentary, “That guy is so crazy,” and “that guy is obnoxious! Psst psst psst…”

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Stellan Skarsgård in In Order of Disappearance. Dir. Hans Petter Molland.

The couple to my right made an admirable attempt to be well-behaved, but there must have been some toxins floating in the air that affected them as well. During a moment of harrowing dialogue in the movie, the man’s phone fell crashing to the floor and shook the theater. He spent the next few minutes grumbling as he tried to reach and crawl beneath his seat. Finally the cocaine-riddled clown in front of me came soaring to the distressed man’s rescue with a phone of his own, shining his flashlight upon the scene and illuminating the dysfunctional cinema. The phone was found and they acknowledged each other following a time of great adversity and perseverance. The fall must have set something off inside of his phone, for the beast had been awakened, ringing with emotion for the remainder of the film. That old man turned out to be the most popular man on campus, his phone flooding with notifications and howling BOO DOO DOO DOOP at every turn.

Many years and grey hairs later, the movie came to an end. I escaped the theater in a frantic shuffle, getting out to my car, turning the ignition and sitting there taking deep breaths and collecting myself as I shivered in the below-freezing mid-February Chicago temperatures. Yes, indeed, I had now seen two films from director Hans Petter Molland. Or maybe just one film. We’ll call it one-and-a-half Molland films, how about that. I endured freezing temperatures, a man who had been exposed to The Joker’s laugh gas, a man fighting his mid-life crisis with Liam Neeson movies and his cell phone, and some elderly folks who probably stepped into the wrong movie. I saw Stellan Skarsgård aka Dickman beat up some bad dudes, I saw Liam Neeson aka Coxman beat up some bad dudes, and most importantly I got to see Laura Dern smoke a couple roaches while preparing dinner because well you know, it’s Colorado, there’s weed. A few days later, I’m not mad. I can look back and laugh, knowing it’s an experience I won’t soon forget. My only hope is that five years from now Molland will remake the movie again for Mexican audiences, this time starring Danny Trejo as the lead. If it happens, I will need to return to that same theater in hopes of rekindling the spirit of that cold and traumatizing Friday evening.

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