Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons. Directed by Tomas Alfredson.
Sometimes expectations can be high for a film from the get go. Granted, good pedigree does make us expect more of a film than say – a Michael Bay Transformers film, no matter how much Sir Anthony Hopkins or Jim Carters he throws at us. But when all the elements are of the top calibre and the market so ripe for a hit, for that film to be a disappointment is a major problem.
That, unfortunately, is The Snowman. Based on Jo Nesbø’s best selling novel, the seventh to feature his popular Harry Hole character, this tale sees Hole teaming up with a rookie Katrine, to find a serial killer who’s work has been going on his streak for a while, and who uses the first fall of snow as his window to kill.
A great set up, no doubt, and from Nesbø, who has written thrillers that stand up with the best of them, it is a promising start. In that alone, a series of stories featuring one tortured hero, there’s clearly no doubt that producers are hoping Michael Fassbender will carry on Hole and be the next leading man type in the James Bond / Jack Ryan / Alex Cross / Jack Reacher world of stylish thrillers. But for now, The Snowman is thuddingly, painfully, disappointing.
The film is directed by Tomas Alfredson, a man who has previously given audiences films that are more than they seem. Let the Right One In is a vampire story that is more a tale of childhood trauma through the lens of blood sucking, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a cold war spy thriller that is more about the personal than the political. However, all this past experience cannot make The Snowman work. It’s less than it seems. It’s not a thriller, it’s not a chiller, and barely has a coherent story. But Alfredson is not alone; the whole crew have done so so much better.
Alfredson is unable to bring his style and attention to detail into line with the frantic and uneven plotting which must be down to the shoddy writing. No character talks like a human being, and there are no character interactions outside of the bare beats of the narrative. This becomes even more of an issue when the three screenwriters are respectable. Hossein Amini the writer of great films like The Wings of the Dove, Drive and The Two Faces of January can’t match those adaptations, while Peter Straughan also seems to have struggled to match the fierce focus of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and even Scandavian native Søren Sveistrup can’t match his work on The Killing.
Despite the guiding hand of Martin Scorsese there seems to be little thrills to be had, and no B-Movie fun à la Shutter Island, and even the editing prowess of Scorsese MVP Thelma Schoonmaker can’t make this choppy mess engage the way it should.
What the film needed to be was another The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but the writer’s aren’t Steven Zaillian, and the director is not David Fincher. Their take on the Swedish thriller worked perfectly and even with Daniel Craig not doing an accent, it worked, it took the story and it made it thrilling even at a near three hour run time. Here, no matter how hard Fassbender tries, he looks bored. Unlike his best roles, he seems to be doing it because he has to, not because he wants to, while Rebecca Ferguson continues to be thoroughly uncharismatic as his foil.
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Even the reliable supporting players are left by the way side – J.K Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, James D’Arcy, Toby Jones, Ronan Vibert and Anne Reid all fail to do anything that makes us care for the characters, they’re stood there with silly, unmemorable names attempting to sell this unfolding decade old conspiracy – possibly – but get lost in the snow and the boredom.
All of this is fine, and after all there’s no shame in making a flop, that is until Val Kilmer shows up. As drunken former hero Gert Rafto, Kilmer is at his all time worst. Kilmer was never a great actor; he was a pretty boy who got lucky. But here, he not only looks incredibly bizarre, can barely stand, and can barely speak, but he also sticks out for all these reasons. There are many people who can play drunk – and are drunk – but can turn it into a brilliant piece of acting. Kilmer isn’t it, and his casting u2014 given the brilliance of everyone around him u2014 makes it all the more confusing.
Even with him sidelined, the film can’t decide if it wants to be a sprawling epic, a meditation of feminist ideals, or a horror film. Now given that the trailer, and the posters, makes it seem like a film that is about a killer purposely trying to play the detective – an idea that time and time again proves thrilling, there’s no real shame in Hole’s drinking, he’s not a bad person. He appears to be a maverick, but not really.
There are hints at political underpinning, the subplot of Simmons being a wealthy industrialist who upholds old fashioned values but has illicit affairs on the side is nothing new. It’s no great revelation that political figures are lying perverts, this has been obvious since the dawn of time, made even less of a shock during the Clinton administration and later of Cameron’s pig faux-pas and even more recently with the fact that the current sitting President has practically admitted to sexually assaulting people.
The film doesn’t work on any level; even Marco Beltrami’s score is weak, pedestrian and doesn’t work, and in it’s wildest dreams it believes it can muster some of the Seven magic but Fincher isn’t around, and no matter how badly Alfredson and co want to warp ‘Popcorn’ by Hot Butter into The Snowman’s dark song it doesn’t. It’s not Stuck in the Middle with You, it’s not The Hurdy Gurdy Man, it’s not And Then He Kissed Me. If Harry Hole is another great book character destined to be on the big screen – which no doubt he is – then the next attempt needs to be much much better.