Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Being critical of your work is one thing, but a director bashing his next mainstream release before it’s opened in all territories? Enter Tomas Alfredson, who – when reacting to UK reviews – “revealed” why The Snowman “doesn’t work” and how “10-15%” of script material didn’t get shot. To quote the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy filmmaker, “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.” A glowing endorsement for us Statesmen, eh? Let’s just say Mr. Alfredson gave me all the clues to save myself from one of the worst thrillers of 2017 – and boy, should I have listened.
Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, a Norwegian detective made popular by Jo Nesbø’s crime novel series. In this particular case, the drunk, sleepy nomad teams up with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to stop a snowman-obsessed serial killer. Making matters worse, they can’t draw public attention since entrepreneur Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) is trying to secure Oslo’s selection to host a Winter Games – but maybe he’s in on the crimes? Either way, Harry has to stay sober long enough to lock away Norway’s maniac snowballer while playing nice with ex-lover Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and not-but-kinda stepson Oleg (Michael Yates). Moral of the story? Things are complicated in Norway.
The predictive – and maddening – truth behind Alfredson’s comments is a bust. Quite honestly, the Let the Right One In helmer could write this review for me based on his critical assessment thus far.
The Snowman is a criminal mystery stuck on fast-forward, yet somehow still daunting in length. You’ll constantly question whether you dozed off and missed an important plot-tying scene – something acclaimed editor Thelma Schoonmaker cannot even hide. Maybe in the form of a superfluous subplot about J.K. Simmons’ “nefarious” business scoundrel chasing Olympic-sized dreams, or a villain who can just appear anywhere and everywhere. Fassbender stumbles through a case that keeps falling into people’s laps; actions telegraphed to where I grumbled “[redacted] better not be the killer, because that would be *the* lamest possible reveal.”
Glad it took an anesthetized 119 minutes to be proven right.
Then there are the Val Kilmer flashbacks – an even harder-drinking investigator harboring a subconscious death wish (Rafto) – who I thought to be Alfredson’s titular “Snowman” given his cold, rigid performance. Cheeks like bulldog jowls, mood-killing stupors, distracting ADR line replacement – I mean, Kilmer’s fake voice doesn’t even match vocal movements. This is representative of a tonal butchering that permeates through the entirety of Alfredson’s dark intentions because, for one, Kilmer’s performance yanks us out of necessary headspaces. Secondly? Snowmen just aren’t very scary (Jack Frost included), even when plopped atop a decapitated torso (effects obviously digitized). Kilmer’s ill-fitting approach and Fassbender’s fluffy nemeses are never able to sustain drama, like a pointed icicle that melts away within a matter of minutes. All danger lost.
Have fun explaining away just about every setup and plot configuration in this adapted boondoggle of a script. Nothing matters, and if it did, editing wouldn’t let it let it. From J.K. Simmons’ red herring of a cut-rate Bond villain (who snaps smartphone pictures of woman – re: creeper – but why explain that) to Gainsbourg’s maybe (?) on-again/off-again relationship with Fassbender (Harry goddamn Hole). From a main character’s fate NEVER BEING ADDRESSED (definitely dead, but why?) to the most utterly incapable, horrendously anti-climatic, mind-numbingly *infuriating* finale in European noir history. Disjointed scene work, geographical inconsistencies between screen and life (really, Norwegians are pissed), a killer with fumbled motives (WHY THE SNOWMEN, EVEN! IT’S THE TITLE OF YOUR MOVIE) – this movie was cut together by a toddler who saw Shutter Island once and hoped to replicate. A chilling whodunit buried under ice, a beastly dark procedural never to be unleashed.
If a gold star needs to be awarded, cinematographer Dion Beebe deserves the honor. From Oslo to Bergen – and those Hot-Wheels-track bridges that Fassbender speeds down – Norway’s frigid tundra provides a Fargo-esque backdrop to The Snowman’s case. Everything so silenced and barren, as if to suggest nothing bad could happen with such little scenic deviation. It’s the film’s greatest trick – if you can call it that – but that’s all inherent in location value as well. Just like shooting in Iceland or somewhere else photographers vacation with purpose.
Performances across that board are either uninspired or sabotaged by tone. Kilmer aside, cheap moments undo whatever actors are striving for. Take Rebecca Ferguson, who – when protecting herself from an intruder who turns out to be Fassbender’s Hole – calls him a drunk. He lingers there, pinning her body to the floor, and retorts an answer that’s so obvious and weightless it stings. Or Fassbender himself, who begins an alcoholic and accepts sobriety over time without us even noticing – a narcoleptic who sleeps in children’s park structures and outside bars. J.K. Simmons and his womanizing habits that go without exploitation (sick accent, tho), Chloë Sevigny plays identical sisters who suffer a tragedy (how wasn’t one of their bodies immediately discovered?!), Toby Jones as “A Toby Jones Type” – everything is so paint-by-police-chalk, no actor stood a chance.
Given pedigrees and collaborative parties, The Snowman will go down as 2017’s biggest whiff. Words like “baffling” and “inexcusable” are an understatement. Everyone involved knows how to make a better movie; yet. we’re left with this melted pile of tropes that felt unnecessary heat from whatever production follies may have occurred – but that doesn’t excuse final sign-offs. This is, for worse and only worse, the slipperiest slog of a crime thriller you’ll attempt to grasp all year – and that’s only one out of infinity problems.