I saw the original Norwegian film on the recommendation of novelist F. Paul Wilson. My remembrance of the differences between the Norwegian version and this Americanized version may be slightly off, since it has been 5 years since I viewed the original.
Here are a few of the things I remember as being different:
1) There was no wife in the Norwegian film. In this American version Laura Dern plays Liam Neeson’s wife. As the film opens she is telling him he’ll have to say a few words as he accepts his Citizen of the Year Award. The award, itself, appears in both films, but Laura Dern’s character does not. The way she leaves (and why) is one of the mysteries that doesn’t add up. Why would someone leave a card with absolutely no note in it or any writing on the card? The film would have been better off leaving the character of the wife out of the film.
2) In the American version, the drug war is between an Indian tribe and a Denver drug dealer. In the Norwegian version—which was also directed by Hans Petter Moland—there was a Serbian drug dealer and a vegan drug dealer known as “the Count.”
3) The method of disposing of the bodies was the same: the bodies are wrapped up in chicken wire (like a human taco) and thrown into water. In Norway, this meant fjords. In this version that is supposedly set 172 miles outside of Denver in a town named Kehoe, Neeson still throws bodies down spectacular waterfalls. To me, this immediately screamed “This is not Denver.” It wasn’t. [Shooting took place in Alberta, Canada, with a crew from Calgary, and there was also a Norwegian crew.]
4) If the ending of the film is the same, I do not remember it well enough to comment. The body count definitely seemed much, much higher in this film, and the fortuitous graphic violence was much, much more intense.I counted at least 20 deaths in the American version, whereas the Norwegian entire cast did not number much more than that.
I had issues with the depiction of the Denver drug dealer called the Viking. Played by Tom Bateman as a character whose normal name was Trevor Calcote, he is unendingly despicable (even unto his dying breath(s). His relationship with his small son seems to signal control freak with sadistic tendencies and he is horrible to his ex-wife. There are tantalizing plot threads dropped into the script that suggest we may get a message about bullying, for instance, but those concepts are never explored.
The entire attempt to Americanize a Norwegian dark comedy was slightly odd. The real-life town of Ferme, British Columbia may be the ski town we see Emmy Rossum (of television’s “Shameless”) and her policeman boss John (played by John Doman) patrolling. I’m somewhat familiar with Colorado; my daughter lived there for three years and my sister attended the University of Colorado at Boulder briefly. There is no vista near Denver that I am aware of that even remotely resembles that of the snowbound area(s) in this film.
There were, as I said earlier, times when a plot thread seemed to have been dropped into the dialogue. But “dropped” is the right term, because lines like, “Lord of the Flies—all the answers you’ll ever need are in that book” just appear and then disappear(The drug dealer father to his son). Or we could quote Liam Neeson during his speech while accepting his Kehoe Citizen of the Year Award: “I picked a good road early and I stayed on it.” Or there is the occasional fascination with diet (not in the original) and the Asian woman that Liam Neeson’s brother (played by veteran character actor William Forsythe) has married. There are also discussions of “Who is the better quarterback, Elway or Peyton Manning?” and fantasy football. All-in-all, lots of “fluff” that is inserted to make this film longer.
I found myself asking questions like, “Why does Laura Dern’s character show up in only her stocking feet to tell her husband (Liam Neeson) that their son has been killed?” It’s cold out and the snow looks to be about 5 feet deep, so why would you leave the house without shoes of any kind? But there she is, as Liam is plowing the road and it’s simply not enough to say, “Well, she was really upset.” Or why does she leave a note in an envelope and, when it is opened, it is completely blank? I vote for leaving her out of the film, as the original film did, as mentioned above. What was the intent with the fascination with hang gliding or with Emmy Rossum’s Denver-based boyfriend, who provides her with insider knowledge of the ongoing investigation?
There were scenes inserted that seemed to have been put in simply to make the film longer; why the truly odd warehouse with various stuffed animals, etc. in it that the Indians own? Why the very strange house that Liam Neeson’s brother and his Asian love live in? The scene with the black assassin called “The Eskimo” is also strange. The line is inserted, “Sometimes loyalty comes at a price.”That sounds like a thread we will see explored, but all we see are people being murdered, one after another.
The body count on this film was much higher than in the original. At the end, alone, there are twelve fatalities. Before that, in the order of their disappearance (which was how the original film worked it, too) we see the following characters disposed of, one by one:
1) Kyle Coxman (Liam’s onscreen son)
2) Steve Milliner (Speedo)
3) Jeff Christensen (Santa)
4) Simon LeGrew (Baby Hawk)
5) Leighton Deeds (The Eskimo)
6) Brock Coxman (Wingman)
7) Tyche Hanmel (Dexter)
8) Dante Firstal
9) Gallum Ferrante (Sly)
10) Anton Dinckel (Bone)
11) Charles Schalm (Janitor Chuck)
I had questions about the Indian drug dealer Chief White Bull at film’s end, too. He gets in the car with Liam Neeson and pulls a gun. Neeson goes about his duties as snow plow driver; the Chief simply lets him exit the vehicle (a large snow plow) and do his job. What’s that all about?
I also found the end of “Viking” unsettling. First of all, the machine that literally can pick up trees and drop them through cars was not in the original film, and I don’t know why it had to be in this version. A Tesla was also involved; it was sad to see a gun fight where expensive cars are being pocked with automatic gunfire. The scene falls in the tradition of crazy fire fight sequences, like others I saw last year at SXSW— “Baby Driver” comes to mind.
The fight scenes are good, if overly bloody and graphic, but the film lacked focus.