Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson
Rated R for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min.
I don’t quite know how to describe The Snowman. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has given us previous gems like Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. You would expect with a Norwegian crime thriller, he would be in his element, weaving a terrifying story with his usual visual deftness and quiet pace.
While both of these are fully evident here, something is wrong with this picture. Why? Well, I can share my impressions about what’s happened, but the most important thing is this: It doesn’t make sense.
Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a brilliant Oslo detective whose life has taken a downward spiral. He drinks until he passes out, sleeps in a park (in the winter) and generally makes a nuisance of himself in public. His chief warns him that he can’t cover for him much longer, but Harry doesn’t seem concerned.
When new detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) is hired, she lets Harry tag along on a murder investigation. As the investigation unfolds, both detectives begin to connect the dots to murders that had the same pattern nine years earlier in Bergen. Murder during a snowfall. A hand-written note teasing the police. An ominous snowman.
As the investigation intensifies, the killer seems to be very close to them. Harry and Katrine become more desperate to find someone they believe is hiding in plain sight. The toll it takes on Harry is very personal.
So the premise of this film is intriguing. Serial killer. Snowy mountain backdrop. Detailed unfolding of a crime story.
In this case, however, Alfredson and his script writers, Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini, seem to be at odds with each other. Based on a novel of the same name by Norwegian crimewriter Jo Nesbø, the director and his writers have conscripted the title but cast off a large part of the plot to go their own way. As a result, they seem to be meandering in their own snowy wilderness as they add subplots that only loosely connect to the story and waste precious screen time getting to the point.
As for Harry, we are given very little background on why he’s so tormented. Sure, he’s broken up with his girlfriend, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), while remaining attached to her son, Oleg (Michael Yates). On the other hand, Rakel also remains connected to Harry, even though she’s married to Mathias (Jonas Karlsson). Does this make Harry go on a bender? Does he have a previous tragedy in his life? We’re left to wonder.
What’s most disconcerting, however, is the casting of this film. A Norwegian setting and a Norwegian novel. Wouldn’t you think a mostly Scandinavian cast would be appropriate?
I think, however, The Snowman was built to appeal to an English-speaking audience. As a result, much of the cast is made up of English and American actors, including J.K. Simmons as philanthropist pervert Arve Stop and a very bizarre Val Kilmer as Detective Rafto.
What we’re left with is a Swedish filmmaker using English-speaking actors to sell us on an Oslo murder story. Doesn’t work. Just. Does. Not. Remember the English language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Yeah. This one’s worse.
If you like snow and beautiful backdrops, this might make a good nature film. As a murder mystery, however, The Snowman should be buried on a high Norwegian mountaintop under 20 feet of snow with a skull-and-crossbones sign set right on top so no one goes near the place.
Mr. Alfredson, you are a talented filmmaker. You should know better than to invest in something so commercially crass and artistically dismal. Just remember, for your loyal fans who expect much of you, the next movie you make, you owe us. Big time.