By Luke Parker, Columnist
It is an enigma as to why “The Snowman,” a film which managed to assemble a group of first-rate Hollywood talents, turned out so slushy. It had all of the components for a hit thriller – a strong, Michael Fassbender-led cast, an artistic director, and a renowned Jo Nesbø novel to work from – and yet the final takeaway is nothing more than a feeling of dread towards the egregious and bountiful missed opportunities.
Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a gifted Norwegian investigator who now faces the fate of a has-been and the consequences of alcoholism. The only great mysteries he now encounters in the city of Oslo, Norway revolve around where exactly he is going to awake from his drunken slumbers.
His personal life is also a mess; having never really detached from his ex-girlfriend, Rakel, (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their estranged son, Oleg (Michael Yates), he quickly gets tangled up in false promises and fits of jealousy.
Based on the seventh novel in Nesbø’s best-selling series, “The Snowman” expects its audience to know of Hole’s accolades and abilities beforehand. He is, in fact, a great detective; a Sherlock Holmes from the north. New recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who later becomes Harry’s “unofficial” partner, tells him that his past cases are studied at the academy. But that is all the background information we get.
Having this be the first of Nesbø’s novels to reach the big screen, it is foolish for director Tomas Alfredson to have put such emphasis on its hero’s home life, of which any non-readers have zero context.
Rather, if its two-hour duration had spent more time focused on the crimes at hand – whose hideous and gory nature reign nearly all of the film’s tension – “The Snowman” could have easily absolved one of its numerous faults.
Hole is a genius, but who would have guessed given his drunken, pill-popping demeanor? If the upcoming “Murder on the Orient Express” has even a shred of the storytelling abilities its source creator Agatha Christie had, it will avoid a complete biography of Poirot and focus on the rest of the express. The mystery here – involving a serial killer who sticks women’s heads on the top of snowmen – is carelessly marginalized by needless distractors which manage to muffle out any sort of suspense pretty much instantly.
Actually, many of the problems stem from the storytelling, which moves carelessly between its puzzling number of incongruent plot lines – included within the investigation and Harry’s troubled life are two separate flashback timelines, and Arve Støp’s (J.K. Simmons), one of Oslo’s most “generous” sponsors, campaign to host the Winter Sports World Cup. These pieces never quite form a cohesive whole, and thus, like its titular figure, the film will fall apart come springtime. Perhaps even sooner.
This should have been a success. I can’t wrap my head around it.
Everyone involved in its production should have known better. There is an all-star supporting cast featuring the likes of Val Kilmer, Simmons and Toby Jones. The screenwriters include Oscar-nominees Peter Straughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) and Hossein Amini (“The Wings of the Dove”), and Martin Scorsese is the executive producer.
Even Academy Award-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Memoirs of a Geisha”), who admittingly incorporates landscape images of notable beauty, isn’t entirely on the mark, as some kind of experimental effect is implemented that made me think a fly was shooting around in the projector room. That was a bad choice, indeed.
“The Snowman” reeks of disappointment, and any entertaining moment it pulls off is soiled by the reminder of the film’s wasted potential. Harry Hole’s movie career could not have gotten off to a worst start, ending with a, “You can have a sequel if you want it” vibe. Don’t expect a sequel.