2017, R, 119 mins.
Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole / Rebecca Ferguson as Katrine Bratt / Val Kilmer as Gert Rafto / Chloë Sevigny as Sylvia Ottersen / J.K. Simmons as Arve Støp / Charlotte Gainsbourg as Rakel / James D'Arcy as Filip Becker
Directed by Tomas Alfredson / Written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup, based on the book by Jo Nesbø
THE SNOWMAN is a new serial killer murder mystery of limitless badness, one that's so inapproachably messy, ineptly scripted, frustratingly edited, and morosely performed that you kind of have to wonder how a film with such remarkable skill in front of and behind the camera could make something as creatively wrongheaded.
It's produced by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese, edited by Oscar winner
Thelma Schoonmaker, stars Oscar nominees Michael Fassbender and J.K.
Simmons, and is directed by Tomas Alfredson, the helmer of such brilliant
films such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and TINKER
TAILOR SOLDIER SPY. THE
SNOWMAN becomes an absolutely painful endurance test of will to watch
because of its horrible misappropriation of talent and resources; this is
one of the most inconceivably incoherent and bewildering films that I've
seen all year.
THE SNOWMAN is
based on the best selling crime novels of Jo Nesbo and concerns the
exploits of Oslo based detective Harry Hole (yup, not a great or inspired
name at all). If this film
does anything well I would say this: As a person that has experienced over
forty years of winters in Canada, this film positively nails its snow
covered Norway settings with a startling verisimilitude.
There's a compellingly dangerous and foreboding natural beauty that
permeates THE SNOWMAN, but the authentically rendered location shooting
means nothing when virtually nothing of interest happens in
these frigid environments. That,
and the core premise of this thriller kind of inspires chuckles: a
dangerous serial killer is on the loose that makes and leaves snowman at
the scene of his crimes as unique calling cards.
This is problematic because (a) snowman are not the least bit
frightening and (b) snowman are used in the film to generate
moments of terror that elicits more giggles than scares.
Fassbender - one of our greatest and most empowered actors working in
contemporary cinema - has never looked so borderline comatose in a role
before as he does here playing Hole, the leader of an ace squad of
homicide detectives in Olso. He's
also one of those dime a dozen and obligatory alcoholic cops that still
somehow manages to miraculously keep his job as a detective because of how
ingenious he is...despite the fact that his cunning intellect is never
really on display in the film. Anyhoo',
Hole is tasked early on in the film to begin a massive investigation into
a series of ghastly murders that have one specific commonality - the
appearance of a snowman at the crime scene.
Have I told you
already that snowman are not as scary as this film thinks they are?
Hole teams up
with a new recruit (because these types of standard issue police
procedurals require a rookie sidekick) in Katrine Bratt (Rebecca
Ferguson), who worships Hole and has studied his work "at the
Academy," but has her own sordid and murky past of her own.
Following a series of breadcrumb-like clues, the pair eventually
comes in contact with a high ranking local businessman, Arve Stop (J.K.
Simmons) and his doctor, Idar Vetlesen (David Denick), but this proves to
be a relative dead end when new clues are introduced to the mix.
The closer Hole and Bratt believe that they are coming to a
successful end of their investigation, multiple red herrings and new
revelations rear their ugly heads and place them on the hunt even more.
As more bodies begin to pile up, Hole soon realizes that he may be
journeying down the wrong path to nabbing the killer, all while trying to
mend his troubled personal life with his ex (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Where do I even
begin to relay to you what's so hopelessly and endlessly wrong with THE
SNOWMAN? Maybe the writing
was on the wall for this film when Alfredson very publicly and bravely
revealed that his shoot in Norway was far too short and that, when all was
said and done, the production was so chaotically rushed that - by his
estimation - large chucks of what was on the written page were never
filmed. This rigidly
undisciplined and hastily shot vibe to the production that Alfredson is
alluding to can be abundantly felt within the first thirty minutes of THE
SNOWMAN, seeing as there's a scandalous lack of basic narrative cohesion
on display. The story jumps
from one scene to another seemingly unrelated one with a glaring
arbitrariness, sometimes with the nagging sensation that multiple filler
scenes that would have been required as bridging material to make sense of
it all are missing. Then
there are moments when the film abruptly flashes back in time, then
flashes forward, only to do the same again by introducing us to characters
that appear inconsequential to the overall plot thrust.
The fact that THE SNOWMAN is co-edited by Schoonmaker - a
career-long collaborator with Scorsese that has cut most of his films and
could easily be labelled as one of the greatest editors of all time - and
the resulting film is so senselessly constructed and illogically paced is
are introduced, not really expanded upon, later abandoned, and ultimately
re-visited when the screenplay awkwardly deems it necessary.
Bratt's character and past seem terribly defined and annoyingly
ambiguous, not to mention that of Simmons' businessman that's working
overtime to try to bring the Olympics to Olso, but is frequently
distracted by his unquenchably thirst for prostitutes.
Hole's fractured relationship with ex-wife and his father-like
relationship to her son (which he's not biologically related to) is
equally ill defined in the narrative. Chloe Sevigny appears once in the film, then is horrifically
dispatched with by the killer, only to perplexingly re-appear later...as
the victim's surviving twin sister. Perhaps
even more bizarre is a laughably inconsequential and confusing flashback
to a detective that years ago also was on the trail of the killer.
He's played by
Val Kilmer in one of the most baffling and wretchedly botched cameos in
Now, to be
absolutely fair to Kilmer, he has been going through some undefined health
issues in the recent past, which cancer being rumored and indirectly
referenced by the actor in social media posts.
When he appears as his sleuth in THE SNOWMAN he appears frail,
semi-gaunt, and distractingly unhealthy.
Worse yet, Kilmer's voice has been egregiously dubbed by what
clearly appears to be a whole other unknown actor altogether that sounds
nothing like him, which makes the very few scenes that he occupies
unnervingly distracting. Now,
this begs the question: why couldn't the makers here simply recast the
beyond-obviously sick Kilmer with another performer and, as a result, let
the poor man has have his dignity back?
How any director, editor, producer, or, hell, studio head believed
in their heart of hearts that Kilmer's footage was usable in their current
state in the film is a shocking indictment of their collective lack of
Kilmer's not the
only performance casualty, though, seeing as nearly every single actor in
THE SNOWMAN appears to make very little effort whatsoever to plausibly
enunciate with a Norwegian accent, which is bad considering that the story is set
in Norway (Simmons comes closest, I guess, but he sound more nasally
British than Norwegian). Headlining
the film without any visible charm or energy is Fassbender, whom barely
puts forward an effort to make his unorthodox detective an appealing
and/or endearing anti-hero. I'm
quite sure that the literary Harry Hole must have been an endlessly
intriguing and multi-faceted character on the page that inspired multiple
novels, but in the movie he's such a dull and monotonous bore of a persona
that you just kind of want to thrown something up at the screen in protest
when it appears - in the end - that the film wants to set up a potential
franchise of films with him.
Speaking of endings, THE SNOWMAN culminates with a climatic showdown between Hole and the killer that relies on a laundry list of lame duck clichés, some of which include the villain's need to talk and talk...and talk to the captured and bound hero when he could have easily just killed him, not to mention that the identity of said villain can be easily deduced early on using the Law of Economy of Characters, a movie convention that dictates that any inconsequential character in the story early on will be artificially made consequential by its end. I walked out of my screening of THE SNOWMAN feeling defeated and miserable. I'm quite positive that there's a great thriller buried very deep beneath this film's soul crushing clumsiness. What I saw was an unadulterated mess, a work that felt like an inordinately rough first edit that's not even close to deserving of a theatrical release. Because of this, THE SNOWMAN emerges as one of 2017's most unwatchable fiascos.