The most compelling mystery involved in The Snowman has nothing to do with its plot. The real question confronting audiences doesn’t revolve around the identity of the film’s eponymous serial killer, but how a film with so much talent involved on both sides of the camera managed to be so egregiously awful. Rather than the taut thriller with a compelling antihero and a twisted villain promised by the trailers, The Snowman is a tedious collection of genre cliches that serves no purpose and fails to maintain even the faintest suggestion of a coherent narrative.
Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) helming a Nordic neo-noir in the vein of Insomnia or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Sounds pretty good so far. The writers of Drive, The Killing and Tinker Tailor adapting a best-selling detective novel? Nothing to argue with there. A top-notch cast featuring the likes of Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones and Rebecca Fergusson? I’m still on board. Martin Scorsese taking on executive producer duties, with his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker in the cutting room? As I’m typing this, I still find it difficult to believe that The Snowman was anything less than spectacular. But it is — much, much less.
For starters, Alfredson effectively disowned the movie in advance of its release, stating that he was brought on board to replace Scorsese at the last minute and that roughly 15 percent of the script was never filmed. This results in a narrative structure that is nigh incomprehensible and an awkwardly appended backstory for the titular killer that’s even less surprising than his identity, one of the most predictable reveals in recent memory. And — let’s just get this out of the way, because it’s worth noting even if changing wouldn’t have saved the film — Fassbender’s character is named Harry Hole. Now, even if this doesn’t constitute the obvious pun in the book’s native language that it does in English, I still struggle to understand why somebody, at some point in the process of bringing a potential international franchise to the screen, didn’t suggest a new name.
On top of all that, the uniformly talented cast delivers some of the most uninspired performances of their respective careers, with Fassbender the worst offender. A disaffected detective with a broken family, a drinking problem and a penchant for passing out on sidewalks, Fassbender’s Hole is a one-note trope rather than a character — and the star seems to know it, if his tepid interpretation of the role is to be taken as any indication. His lackluster work seems to have set the tone for the rest of the ensemble, with no one attempting to elevate the material and most characters seeming to be included arbitrarily. Even Val Kilmer came out of hiding for this one. Why? We may never know.
It’s unusual that I can’t find anything nice to say about a film, and I suppose the Norwegian settings are nice to look at. But this is an ostensible thriller that gives us Calvin’s Snowman House of Horrors instead of Hannibal Lecter, and that’s a tough deficiency to overlook. But hey, at least I got to write about “Fassbender’s Hole” with arguable legitimacy — I guess there’s that. Rated R for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity.
Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.