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edge staff writer


There’s nothing cool about ‘The Snowman’

October 25, 2017
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Thriller utterly lacking in any redeeming qualities

There’s nothing else quite like a Scandinavian crime thriller. Sure, the first thing that leaps to mind when you hear the term is probably Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy – specifically, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – but there are plenty of other very successful writers penning some tales of their own that offer plenty of compelling bleakness.

Take the Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, for example. He’s sold millions of books in Norway and beyond and is perhaps best known for his series of novels featuring the brilliant and damaged detective Harry Hole. Considering his global success, it was only a matter of time before one of these stories got the cinematic treatment.

Unfortunately, “The Snowman” – based on Nesbo’s 2010 novel of the same name – utterly fails to do justice to its source material. It is a scattered, meandering mess, a thriller without thrills that sometimes plays as though it were made by someone with only the vaguest sense of how movies even work. In no way does it ever even approach anything resembling success.

Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, “Alien: Covenant”) is a hard-drinking detective whose deductive brilliance is largely offset by a general inability to function in society. The closest thing he has to family is his ex Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Ismael’s Ghost”) and her son Oleg (Michael Yates in his feature debut), but she has moved on to a relationship with a cosmetic surgeon named Mathias (Jonas Karlsson, TV’s “Beck”).

He’s got a new partner as well, a brilliant rookie just out of the academy named Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson, “Life”) who is obsessed with finding the common denominator for a series of seemingly unconnected cold cases – some decades old. But when Harry receives a mysterious note - signed with a picture of a snowman – that purports to be from someone involved in some recent murders of women, he realizes that there might be something far larger going on after all.

Plus there are some flashbacks from nearly a decade prior involving a totally different hard-drinking antisocial detective, this one named Rafto (Val Kilmer, “Song to Song”). He’s also working on a mysterious case that involves cryptic notes and snowmen and the like. Oh, and there’s an industrialist named Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons, “I’m Not Here”) who is trying to bring some sort of Winter Olympics analog to Oslo and is also sinister and mysterious.

Thus, Harry must try and root out the identity of the Snowman Killer before he strikes again while also dealing with his new partner and her unclear motivations and the still-close relationship with Rakel and Oleg.

“The Snowman” isn’t worried about little things like “plot” or “consistency of timelines” or “narrative coherence” or “being comprehensible in any significant way.” And it’s definitely not worried about being “good.”

When everything is terrible, as it is here, it’s tricky to suss out just exactly what went wrong. When one examines the individual building blocks of this movie, it all seems to make sense. You’ve got decent source material adapted by screenwriters with a demonstrated grasp of the tone. You’ve got a director with a handful of interesting credits under his belt. You’ve got a hauntingly beautiful setting and a legitimately talented cast.

And yet, when you put it all together, you’re left with a dumpster fire fueled by ennui and lutefisk.

Tomas Alfredson’s experience is primarily within the Swedish film industry, but he’s had a couple of crossover successes in 2008’s “Let the Right One In” and 2011’s “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.” He’s a talented filmmaker, though you wouldn’t know it from watching “The Snowman.” The film staggers along, failing to establish any sort of tonal consistency and suffering from massive narrative gaps that strain the credulity of the viewer. It’s all fits and starts, never once getting on anything resembling a roll.

He’s not done any favors by the script. Having not read the novel, I can’t say for sure, but I would assume that an acclaimed author such as Nesbo would at the very least be capable of stringing together a story that actually, you know, TELLS A STORY. Again, the screenwriters have credits to their names that would indicate an understanding of this sort of Scandi-Noir storytelling, but that understanding is nowhere to be seen in this film.

Michael Fassbender is a real talent, but he needs to watch himself. He’s got “Alien” and he’s got “X-Men” and that’s great, but it would be a real shame if his other work is more junk like this. He frowns a lot and smokes a bunch of cigarettes and … doesn’t do much else. The only indication of him being a good detective is the other characters saying that he is; he doesn’t actually seem to do any detecting. Frankly, it’s tough to remember anything about his performance – he’s little more than a vaguely handsome blank space.

The rest of the ensemble doesn’t fare much better. Ferguson seems to be playing an off-brand Lisbeth Salander, only without the edginess or any of that pesky being interesting and engaging. She’s almost as blank as Fassbender. Gainsbourg looks like she’s trying, but she’s hamstrung by a character with little backstory and even less in the way of clear motivation. And Karlsson is nice enough, but his blandness is unrelenting and inescapable.

As for the famous Americans? Holy s—t. I have no idea what kind of accent J.K. Simmons is trying to throw out here, but he sounds like a concussed Englishman. Meanwhile, Val Kilmer’s growly mumble is so weird that at times, he looks badly dubbed. I get Kilmer – that dude needs to take whatever work he can get – but come on, J.K. You have an Oscar. You’re better than this.

“The Snowman” is a perfect storm of badness. Each of these quality pieces was a delicious food that was consumed by the process of making the movie … and we all know what happens to food after it has been consumed. This film isn’t even yellow snow. It’s brown.

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