Review: The Snowman (2017) – A Sluggish Story with Snowy Surroundings

I wonder how Michael Fassbender will look back on 2017? On the one hand, if rumours are to be believed, he married Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander. So I’m guessing he’s now within the happy bonds of marriage.

But on-screen 2017 seems to have been a rather low point for Fassbender. Hell, the year was literally kicked off by the critically panned Assassin’s Creed! Follow that a few months later with another Terrence Malick snooze-fest in Song to Song. And then spring’s Alien Covenant which, judging by the box office, may have killed the Alien franchise for a second time (though to be fair, Fassbender was the best thing in it.)

Not to give away my final thoughts, but let’s just say that The Snowman is not a step up…

the snowman

Based on the bestselling novel by author Jo Nesbø, and adapted by writers Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan and Søren Sveistrup; The Snowman follows brilliant detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) as he investigates several cases in Oslo that involve missing women. Helping him is one of the force’s newest recruits, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson.)

In addition to his investigation, Harry struggles with the aftermath of his divorce, often turning to alcohol to overcome his woes. Part of this is down to the fact that his ex-wife, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) seems to have moved on and is already remarried to Mathias Lund-Helgesen (Jonas Karlsson), a distinguished surgeon.

But things soon take an unusual turn as Harry starts receiving mysterious letters from an unknown individual. Mixed with the strange snowmen found at the last-seen locations of the missing women, it soon becomes apparent that a serial killer is afoot.

Okay, I just need to get this off my chest, but who on earth thought that Harry Hole would be a good name for a detective? Maybe that works in the original Norwegian of the books (where it’s apparently pronounced Hoh-leh), but the name desperately needed a change for audiences in the English-speaking world.

Still, a crappy-sounding name is the least of this film’s worries as what’s more apparent is the baffling structure and continuity. Various subplots seem to go absolutely nowhere, while characters are introduced and disappear without notice. In addition, the killer’s objective and motivation is both frustrating and almost impossible to discern. And even though the film is meant to be set in Norway, various aspects of both English and American culture litter the storyline. Not to mention the abundance of different accents: American, English, Swedish, Norwegian. It’s like someone wanted the film to be a weird mini version of the UN!

Even the characters are rather one-note. Though the actors do the best with what they’ve been given, how many more times can we see an alcoholic detective struggle to overcome his personal issues? It’s all the more repetitive because BOTH Michael Fassbender and Val Kilmer end up playing the same type of detective. I’m not saying it’s confusing (because, really, who could get confused between those two?); but it does indicate a lack of forethought and imagination.

It’s actually quite difficult to pinpoint where the problems started. Obviously not in the underlying source material as that was a best-seller on its release in 2007.  Rather it seems the problems arose from either a script issue, an editing problem, or lack of direction. Most likely it was all three and everyone just hoped for the best. But that just makes it all the more disappointing as the director is Tomas Alfredson, the man behind fantastic movies such as 2008’s Let the Right One In and 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; and the editor is Thelma Schoonmaker, one of the foremost editors in Hollywood and winner of three Academy Awards.

But despite the failure on multiple levels, there is something to be said for the visuals. Cinematographer Dion Beebe moves his camera with elegance, taking in vistas of snowy countrysides and picturesque towns. Easily the strongest aspect of the film, it’s no wonder Beebe is both an Oscar and BAFTA winner for his craft.

With an uninteresting mystery and poor choices across the board, there’s not a lot to recommend for The Snowman. In fact, if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a well thought-out chess match, then in comparison The Snowman might as well be a particularly mundane game of Snakes and Ladders.

Overall Score:


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