Movie review: The Snowman

The famed Norwegian detective Harry Hole finally hits the big screen

The Snowman (Sněhulák)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
With Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons

A new film franchise based on Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø's detective character Harry Hole has gotten off to a poor start.

The Snowman, with Martin Scorsese listed as executive producer, was supposed to rival the films based on Stieg Larsson's trilogy of Mikael Blomkvist books.

But The Snowman doesn't deliver the thrills and suspense necessary for this sort of crime drama. The story is a contrived mess about women who go missing in winter and snowmen left at the crime scenes.

The snowmen face the houses as if it were watching them.

Several gruesome scenes take place as the police try to track down the criminal. The scenes aren't scary enough for The Snowman to be a horror film, so just come off as being in bad taste. One particular gruesome photo of a corpse is shown countless times, milking its shock value.

Some scenes shown in the trailer for the film aren't actually in the film, which is usually a clue that a lot of last-minute tinkering with the film took place to try to fix it.

Thelma Schoonmaker, who has long worked with Martin Scorsese, is credited with editing the film. That was a bit of a surprise since someone else had been named as the editor when the film was in production. Perhaps Schoonmaker was called in to try to salvage what she could out of what was shot.

Harry Hole (played by Michael Fassbender) is supposed to be some sort of legendary detective whose cases are taught at the police academy. In the film, the Hole character always seems a bit behind everyone else, even rookies. The ploddingly pedestrian script doesn't give him enough to do in terms of police work. Harry Hole and his assistant Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) seem completely out at sea when they are supposed to be doing some basic police work like interviewing witnesses.

There are some parallel plots about Hole's personal life, but it just isn't engaging. Fassbender plays Hole as a bit of an aloof character, and that makes it hard to get invested in his life. Charlotte Gainsbourg turns up as his ex, whom he still has a bit of a relationship with.

The film was shot in Norway and is set there. But the casting had some odd choices. The very American actor J. K. Simmons plays a wealthy industrialist. He always takes a slight comic touch to his roles, which is a bit out of place here as he is supposed to be a sleazy womanizer. He also seems far too nice to be the sort of person who clawed his way to the top by stepping over his former friends. He's not convincing as a Norwegian narcissist.

Val Kilmer turns up in some flashbacks, giving a truly bizarre performance as a hard-drinking detective who worked on a related case. His style is so different from the laid-back acting the rest of the cast is doing that he seems to be in a different film.

Director Tomas Alfredson previously made the successful vampire film Let the Right One In and the thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, both adapted from novels. His previous sense of visual style and dramatic pacing is absent in The Snowman. A few well-designed images of the characters in the endless snow stand out, but much of the film has a generic quality that any number of directors could have achieved.

A sequel is strongly hinted at. The filmmakers hopefully will have learned a few things so they can make something coherent.

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