If you’ve ever been in an airport convenience store then you’re probably familiar with the brand of Scandinavian crime-noir bestsellers from authors such as Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø. Adapted from Nesbø’s novel of the same name, Tomas Alfredson’s (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) “The Snowman” follows the unfortunately named Inspector Harry Hole as he chases a body-dismembering, snowman-building serial killer. At first glance, “The Snowman” has all the makings of a crime-thriller blockbuster; its cast is laden with talent, including Michael Fassbender (“12 Years A Slave”) and J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”). The source material is an international bestseller, and director Tomas Alfredson has proven capable on past projects. The result, however, is a two hour long mess that stumbles haphazardly through its story while managing to remain as turgid and lifeless as the icy landscapes it portrays.
The film’s cardinal sin is its dialogue and character interactions, which are uncomfortable and clunky. Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a grizzled, rules-averse detective with a penchant for sleeping on the ground in public and generally behaving like no other person in the history of the human race. In one particularly laughable scene, the solemn and stoic Inspector Hole walks to his ex-girlfriend’s place of work so he can stand outside her window and … stare at her? In another, a Bergen detective played by Val Kilmer (“Top Gun”) stares silently at a murder witness while she recounts her story. When Kilmer does reply, his voice has been dubbed over and the audio doesn’t quite match his lips. Just about every interaction in “The Snowman” is coated in a thick layer of awkward — and the cast, for all its raw talent, is unable to salvage the film.
If this weren’t enough, the story is a tangled mess of red herrings, loose ends and utter nonsense. The pacing feels as if there were entire scenes cut out from the film, which Anderson confirmed — nearly 10 to 15 percent of the script was never filmed. This is made even stranger by the fact that much of what is present feels completely non-essential — most of the film is just people talking and Michael Fassbender trudging sulkily around Oslo. The actual “action” scenes are frustratingly deja-vu inducing as several women are marked for death with omens that, no matter how starkly portrayed, are more laughable than scary. These include building a snowman outside a victim’s house, or throwing a snowball at her as she walks home. The film seems unable to consistently follow its own story, often introducing characters only to have them never appear again, or having Harry Hole recieve cryptic riddles from the killer that are never solved. The film repeatedly makes massive jumps in logic and reason, leaving its audience in the dust.
Perhaps the only thing that can be said in favor of “The Snowman” is that it has one or two visually compelling moments, however even these feel stylistically out of place. The opening sequence features a chase scene with side shots of cars crossing a bridge that feels as if it were ripped from a Wes Anderson film. Later in the film, a conversation is shot from the outside of a moving train. Scenes like this, while impressive on their own, feel less like valuable additions to the film and more like reminders that cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Edge of Tomorrow”) would rather be working on something else. These scenes seem to jump out of the texture of a film that is otherwise visually bland. While there are occasionally pleasant shots of Norway’s fjords and mountains, the majority of the film is bogged down in a version of Oslo plagued by an omnipresent color palette consisting almost entirely of white and gray.
At its conclusion, “The Snowman” sees Harry Hole back on the Oslo police force, volunteering to take up a case that some poor, misguided producer likely hoped would turn into a sequel. Fortunately, the film’s underwhelming box office performance of $10 million worldwide means that this is likely the last viewers will see of Fassbender’s Harry Hole; a fate that is decidedly for the best. Tomas Anderson’s perfect storm of disastrous storytelling and writing will at best be remembered as “hilariously bad.”