In my Autumn preview, I made it clear how excited I was for The Snowman. It has all the ingredients for a great frosty thriller. Scandinavian source material, in Jo Nesbø’s acclaimed Harry Hole series, check. Director Tomas Alfredson, whose filmography deals exclusively in thriller tent-poles such as bloodshed, with Let the Right One In, and deep mysteries involving shady characters, with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, check. Renowned star and infallible acting talent Michael Fassbender, taking on Nesbø’s famous detective, check.
Yet what a shame it is to report that this masterful recipe has only resulted in a lethal concoction, whose individual elements fall apart at the seams. Instead of the fluid, grungy and emotional whodunit we were promised in The Snowman’s promotional material, what we get is, by far and away, the biggest disappointment of 2017.
What it boils down to, in all simplicity, is a ham-fisted plot that struggles to maintain any sense of continuous cohesion. To try and summarize as best I can, legendary detective Harry Hole has been brought to the attention of a missing persons case, alongside fellow federal recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). What they uncover is a series of murders, all with the same modus operandi: dismemberment or staged suicide, followed by the planting of a snowman at the scene of the crime, as a sort of calling card.
This sounds like a promising foundation on which to build a labyrinthine plot. And to a certain extent, Alfredson and his writing team – Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup – have achieved just that. However, what Alfredson and his editors – Claire Simpson and Scorsese regular Thelma Schoonmaker – forgot in the process of translation, was to tie any of the numerous plot points and side stories together, in addition to the main, murder mystery thrust. Harry Hole has his own personal dilemmas to deal with, as does Bratt. There is an awkward and ultimately, hilariously pointless excursion into the secret dealings of J.K. Simmons’ business mogul Arve Støp. There are peculiarly placed diversions into the past, with Val Kilmer’s Detective Gert Rafto dealing with a similar case. There are wasted cameos from Toby Jones and James D’Arcy as contacts of interest within the investigation. It’s all messily smacked together, and leaves one feeling a little gobsmacked that this passed test screenings, ready for a wide release.
Furthermore, some of the performances are questionable to say the least. Firstly, Val Kilmer, an actor who I’ve often defended for his stellar supporting work in films such as Top Gun and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, seems totally lost in this film: gaunt and dead-eyed, I was even convinced that he had been lip synched at a number of points, adding fuel to the fire of my bewilderment. Moreover, Fassbender, an actor who I greatly admire and called out as the talent to look out for in my Alien: Covenant review, is stoic and pokerfaced for all the wrong reasons. An actor that always brings out the deepest, at times darkest sentiments in his characters, ranging from David in the aforementioned Covenant, to the eponymous villain in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, it felt unusual that Fassbender played Hole without any sentimental value: Hole is perhaps an appropriate name, considering his lack of heart.
There is some positive judgement reserved for Dion Beebe’s luscious cinematography, capturing the tempestuous tundra of Norway’s icy regions in all its panoramic glory. It’s just a shame that Beebe’s beautiful frames are populated with characters and plot points that fail to develop in any meaningful way across the film. As character growth seems to be getting under way, the stops and starts of the action, as a result of the chaotic editing and gratuitously digressive screenplay, culminate in a frustrating experience. It’s a great shame because Alfredson has tackled the complexities of thrillers before: his adroit handling of John Le Carré’s serpentine spy narrative in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy led to a great amount of praise, juggling numerous characters and their interwoven relationships. Yet I guess The Snowman is a very present truth of the claim that lightning never strikes twice.
I just hope that The Snowman’s unsubtle promise of a sequel doesn’t come to fruition: with the disordered, dislikeable delivery of its narrative, it just doesn’t deserve it. Here’s hoping that Fassbender, Alfredson and co. can slip back into the shades of greatness they had made their own.