Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Written by: Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup – based on the novel by Jo Nesbø
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny, James D’Arcy
To fully understand how The Snowman failed — and believe me I’ll get into the multitude of ways — it’s probably important to first know what it was trying to be. Ostensibly this was meant as a fairly straight forward potboiler, something like Norway’s answer to Sweden’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Pulpy, vaguely noir-ish but all-told just a straight forward cliche riddled detective whodunit. This could have very easily been an airport novel turned forgettable film but it’s the talent involved and the ineptitude of the production that makes it truly…special? I’ve let it permeate in my brain for a couple days and I haven’t come up with the right word to end that sentence.
The story revolves around Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) — a name that has been much maligned on social media but I promise you is probably the 12th craziest thing about this movie — who we know exactly three things about. 1. He’s an alcoholic, though we only see him drunk twice in the first 20 minutes of the movie and then that character trait seems to be totally forgotten about. 2. He’s a great detective. So great in fact that the young upstart that is assigned to his unit, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) offhandedly remarks that they studied his prior cases at the academy. What made those cases so special or in what way is Harry a great detective? Your guess is as good as mine. No I genuinely mean that, you who have not seen the movie have as much insight as I do. 3. He spends A LOT of time with his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and acts as an almost surrogate father to her son.
The novel by Jo Nesbø that the film is based on is the 7th installment in his Harry Hole series which goes a long way in explaining why it feels like we’re expected to know who this character with no backstory and no real sense of self is. Even with that though, you have to look at a cast including Fassbender, Gainsbourg, Chloë Sevigny, J.K. Simmons and Val Kilmer, as well as the fact that it was almost directed by Martin Scorsese and ask yourself; how did this all go so wrong Mister Police?
At the start we are given a brief flashback at what is presumably the origin story of our Snowman killer. This probably four minute scene manages to include domestic assault, sexual assault, suicide and possibly incest. I say possibly because even in its opening scene I started to question whether or not I had missed plot points along the way. Eventually Harry teams up with Katrine and they stumble upon what appears to be a string of missing women that could potentially be the work of a serial killer.
From there our two main characters bound from crime scene to crime scene with no real through line other than Katrine believing they’re connected —because every missing woman vanished on a day when it was snowing? — and Harry sometimes stumbling on a clue. This brings about red herring’s and brief asides that are so inconsequential and yet so plentiful that the pace grinds to a glacial halt at times.
One of these side stories involves a local (pharmaceutical?) mogul (JK Simmons) who is attempting to bring the Winter Sports World Cup to Oslo. A tangential piece of the story made all the more absurd because of how obvious it was that they couldn’t get the
rights to use the actual winter Olympics as his goal. His character is a lecherous sadist who just HAS to be the killer……right? Chloë Sevigny briefly appears portraying twins, one whom we know noting about other than that she’s promiscuous and the other whom we just plain know nothing about. Take a guess at which one of them gets killed. Val Kilmer goes all out in his brief time onscreen giving one of the most bizarre performances you’re likely to see all year. He’s a Harry Hole-esque drunken detective whose last case may have involved the same Snowman killer that Fassbender faces.
Therein lies the rub… The Snowman killings themselves.
It wasn’t until two days later that it dawned on me that the characters never actively discussed the snowmen. Our Killer has made a snowman, carved a snowman into a car, turned a person into a snowman and even placed a victims body parts onto a snowman but…no one has mentioned it once. No cop has recalled this information when discussing it with each other or even simply said, “what’s the deal with all these snowmen?”.
The Snowman boasts a cast with two Oscar nominees and one winner as well as a three time Oscar winning editor (Thelma Schoonmaker!) who presumably was brought in by Martin Scorsese, who stayed on as an executive producer, to try to salvage the lost film, but its so inexplicably lost within itself that it couldn’t be saved. The movie is so confounding in it’s storytelling that it moves beyond simply being a bad movie and into almost performance art.
Watch it! This might seem counter to everything I’ve said before and it’s well worth waiting till Netflix or Blu-ray (hopefully replete with special features chronicling this Lost in La Mancha catastrophe) but it’s an amalgamation that’s so wild and utterly unique in it’s failings that it genuinely has to be seen to be believed.