Do you want a thrill-less Snowmaaaaaaan? This movie seems to last all dayyyyyy. Rare are mainstream screw-ups like this anymore. Profoundly poor. What’s this story trying to sayyyyyy?
Adapted from Jo Nesbø’s bestselling Norwegian crime novel, The Snowman has already been smothered in the crib by its Swedish director, Tomas Alfredson — for whom this could have been a fine merger of Let the Right One In’s pulp to the procedural of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Alfredson has offered interviewers all manner of equivocations and excuses. He was rushed in prep, had to shoot as soon as the money came in and didn’t even film 15% of the script (more on that later). The Snowman’s disjointed editorial rhythm, basic continuity errors, papery visual effects dripping wet from previsualization renderings and over-reliance on second-unit photography suggest little with which to work. But one wonders if a film this tremendously bad will do more damage to Alfredson’s career than walking away from what was so not ready.
At least cinematographer Dion Beebe frames occasionally sumptuous shots in an otherwise odious, offensive objet d’art. But after a prologue in the past, Alfredson opens the present-day proceedings to the sound of its lead actor snoring, so … the tone is set early. Indeed, Michael Fassbender’s greatest accomplishment is vocalizing his character’s name without snickering.
We meet Harry Hole waking on a park bench after a bender — a detective in constant need of cases, cocktails and cancer sticks. Companionship? Not so much, evidenced by estrangement from wife Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and adopted son Oleg (Michael Yates).
Harry pawns off extra chairs at tables; he doesn’t need to be reminded of the emptiness around him. One scene dissolves from Harry gazing into a pub to him blacked out on the ground, as if it were muscle memory. But Oslo’s crime rate is now so low the cops play table tennis all day long and Harry’s reeling.
Enter the titular killer, who leaves women dismembered and notes for Harry — a snowman crudely erected at his crime scenes and childishly etched beneath his taunting missives. Harry is joined on the case by Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who is exploring the recent murders’ connection to bad business in Bergen nine years before. That timeline is tied together by bald billionaire Arve Støp (J.K. Simmons, who sure looks to have enjoyed his Scandinavian vacation) and Gert Rafto, another besotted detective who previously looked into similar killings.
Rafto is played by Val Kilmer, in one of the most vexing uses of a big-name actor you will ever see. He, one suspects, represents the 15% of the script left un-filmed — seemingly rendered by Kilmer showing up unable to truly fulfill his obligations while recovering from throat cancer. Alfredson, with editors Claire Simpson and Thelma Schoonmaker, clearly tries to use as little footage of Kilmer as possible. When it’s unavoidable, Kilmer has been obviously and sloppily overdubbed by an anonymous voice akin to Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of Larry Flynt. If The Snowman is Kilmer’s farewell on film, it’s hard to think up anything more depressing.
The rest of The Snowman is less somber but certainly no less strange — from statues shown in its opening credits, whose scowls seem directed at the names of actors appearing in this thing, to the amusingly anticlimactic conclusion.
Harry takes Oleg to a concert in a large arena that seems to consist of one man cawing like a bird and flailing around. At a moment when her true motivations are in question, Katrine literally pops up from beneath a desk to tell Harry hello, ask if he’s all right and then leave. One development involving a recognizable character actress couldn’t be less relevant to this story — or more unintentionally hilarious — than if she sprouted wings and flew out of the film forever.
At one point, the killer shows up disguised in one of our heroes’ homes, unbeknownst to them, and shakes his ass to Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” with a wild gyration akin to David S. Pumpkins’ skeletons. The Snowman’s resolution is as inscrutable as Pumpkins’ presence in a haunted house, collapsing in one cheeseball convention after another.
You can see the amorphous attraction The Snowman may have held for Martin Scorsese, once attracted to direct but who stayed on as executive producer. (Perhaps Scorsese sold Schoonmaker, his editorial kin, on a salvage job so this didn’t usurp The Family or Shark Tale as the worst thing to which he’s been attached.) There are emotional strains of male shame and masculine rage onto which he could have latched, along with the idea that a snowman, like patriarchy, is a tradition that melts and loses structure under increasingly high temperatures.
Instead, we settle for the unfortunate symbolism in Alfredson’s weird use of perspective on a plate of sausage. The meat seems whole when viewed from the end. But, when turned to the side, we see it has been crudely sliced into tiny, unappetizing and unfulfilling bites.