The Snowman




I had lofty hopes and expectations of THE SNOWMAN as I entered the cinema.  Adapted from the book by the talented Norwegian mystery crime writer Jo Nesbo, directed by Tomas Alfredson who gave us the labyrinthine TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY in 2011 and starring Michael Fassbender, one of my most admired actors of this generation.


For those not familiar with current Scandi-noir literature, Nesbo has crafted a series of bestsellers about Harry Hole (played here by Fassbender), a rulebook-shredding homicide detective with a brilliant past but a present disintegrating into countless vodka bottles. 


The basic plot, set in wintry and icy Norway around Oslo and Bergen, has a serial killer targeting women who are kidnapped and murdered and he leaves a snowman behind at each abduction site to taunt police.  Harry is called in to find this slayer and assigned an assistant in the shape of Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson).


Lots of potential here but the resultant movie is a mess on many levels but primarily the obtuse jigsaw that is the script and the clunky editing.  The latter is deeply surprising as one of the editors was Thelma Schoonmaker who has amassed seven Oscar nominations for editing and won three times.  Or perhaps the fault lies more with the direction, leaving her with precious little with which to work?  Apart from the Fassbender / Ferguson leads (where screen chemistry was sorely lacking), there are impressive support players in J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Chloe Sevigny, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Toby Jones but none of their characters are drawn comprehensively enough to help them shine through the muddle.


There are stretches of tension, some gruesome scenes and some remarkably beautiful ones, courtesy of Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe who since his Oscar win for MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA in 2006 has lensed some memorable flicks that include CHICAGO and EDGE OF TOMORROW.


What we appear to have here is an embarrassment of riches with the talent pool involved, but a finished product that simply fails to hang together.  The sheer number of subplots along with the plethora of red herrings and flashback time jumps that pepper the two hour running time tends to overwhelm the viewer.  Admiration for many of the standout shots is tempered by a total lack of logic underpinning them.  An example — Val Kilmer’s very odd detective Rafto, sees an outline in the snow high on a mountain slope that is covered by birds.  He fires his gun loudly into the air thereby sending the flock into a flurry of departure over the mountain and revealing the latest victim, body dismembered in a pattern that reminded me of the famous Saul Bass title sequence for Preminger’s 1959, ANATOMY OF A MURDER.


Great visual moment with hundreds of birds soaring over the pristine white mountains but surely the immense risk of an avalanche sending thousands of tons of snow over the remains (not to mention Detective Rafto) would make such an action ludicrous?


Nesbo has written 11 novels featuring Fassbender’s character here, but whether any others will go to screen (was the studio hoping for a potential franchise one muses?) is probably doubtful after this lack lustre start.


In all, a cluttered, confusing and hurried take on what should have been a slow-burning, tense thriller.






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