‘The Snowman’ Is So Bad It’s Depressing [Review]

As long as there have been procedurals, there have been burnt out, down on their luck cops, but Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) seems to have hit every branch on the cliché tree. An alcoholic prone to long leaves of absence when he’s boozing, Harry also claims that he can’t sleep, except when he drinks enough to pass out, which more often than not, will be a street curb or park bench, rather than his own bed. (Side note: the drinking has done nothing to soften the detective’s ripped physique). Harry’s an absentee father figure to Oleg (Michael Yates), who isn’t really his kid, but is the offspring of his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to whom he’s also a disappointment. Harry doesn’t know a rule he won’t break, except when it comes to driving without a license. Everyone has their limits, I suppose. As for the audience, their patience will quickly wear thin having to endure the rumpled, mostly ineffective investigating Harry gets around to doing in the ludicrous “The Snowman.”

Whatever made Jo Nesbo’s novel an international best-seller seems to have been tossed out or completely muddled in this big screen adaptation. The story finds Harry paired up with rookie cop Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to solve the disappearance, and subsequent gruesome murders, of several young women. Beyond the fact that the victims are all mothers and the crimes occurred during snowfall, the pair don’t have much to go on. Meanwhile, another story unfolds involving Oslo’s bid to host to the Winter Sports World Cup (the Hydrox version of the Olympics, presumably because the production couldn’t get clearance to use that word) which may have sinister undertones.

Right from the start, however, Harry and Katrine work at cross purposes. The newcomer officer is quietly studying a cold case, one which carries a deep personal agenda for the cop. Sensing that his supposed partner is holding out, Harry starts looking into Katrine’s work, which may or may not have some bearing on the murders they’re supposed to be trying to sort out. It becomes quite clear that if Harry and Katrine were just straight with each other, they’d probably crack their case in half the time it actually takes them. As for the Winter Sports World Cup, it continues to linger in the background, its relationship to main narrative continually elusive, but it’s not worth thinking about too hard. At a certain point, the actual identity of the killer becomes obvious to anyone halfway paying attention, so you can sit back and savor the silliness, because there’s plenty to behold.

Right at the top of the pile is Val Kilmer, who appears in a handful of flashback scenes as former cop Gert Rafto. He possibly drinks even more Harry (“The Snowman” seems to posit that the best cops in Norway are also the most unstable), and Kilmer’s gargle voiced delivery might have the most and the most awful ADR of any performance this year. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons employs a broad, “European” accent in his turn as smarmy businessman Arve Støp. David Dencik has a lot of fun playing an oddball “pregnancy doctor” (an actual quote from the movie) who wears red nail polish so as to firmly indicate he’s a red herring. As for Chloe Sevigny, her brief turn involves one of the most ridiculous reveals in the film that’s too good to spoil here. Meanwhile, a lot of time is spent explaining how Harry and Katrine’s extraordinarily bulky (and glaringly uncinematic) EviSync (evidence sync) tablet device works, for no discernible reason, except to setup a plot point which ultimately serves little purpose.

With each passing minute, it’s increasingly astonishing that Tomas Alfredson directed this. The filmmaker, who showed such care, craft, and style with “Let The Right One In” and “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” is woefully uninspired here. There’s an inattention to detail on every level that’s disheartening; there’s the sense that Alfredson might’ve given up on the movie before it even started. The two credited editors, the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker (likely brought in at the behest of longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese, who mercifully adds his name as an executive producer) and Claire Simpson do what they can to patch things together, but “The Snowman” leaves motivations and plot threads puzzlingly started and unresolved. The lead performances are not much help either, with Fassbender’s weariness landing on the same single note, while Ferguson never quite sorts out her underwritten yet twisty role. Even Marco Beltrami’s score appears dashed out, all stabbing strings, used to overemphasize the most obvious moments of completely ineffective suspense.

With some films, you can tell where one or two things went wrong — perhaps a decision in script, or a performance that’s off base — but “The Snowman” is the rare movie where for every choice, there was a better way to go. There might be some grim pleasure in watching the film as an unintentional comedy, but it won’t take away the depression of seeing so much good talent and potential go completely to waste. [F]

  • MAYORDADA

    Yo Kevin, PLEASE copyedit your posts! You’re a fine writer, but every single one of your articles is RIDDLED with typos, missing words, and serious grammatical errors. I’m not at all hating, I read this site daily, but I really wish somebody would copyedit these posts. I have no clue if this is even your responsibility (something tells me there’s no copyeditor on the staff), but it’s a real bummer.