THE SNOWMAN review by Mark Walters – Michael Fassbender leads a messy crime thriller

THE SNOWMAN review by Mark Walters – Michael Fassbender leads a messy crime thriller

Hollywood seems to love making movies based on popular murder mystery books, and in the cases of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and GONE GIRL, they have proven to be wildly successful. The new film THE SNOWMAN is based on the popular book by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, and directed by Tomas Alfredson (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY), and sports an impressive ensemble cast… but while the initial concept is interesting, the end result is quite cluttered.

Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a police detective drowning his sorrows in alcoholism. His separation from his wife Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and son Oleg (Michael Yates) has led to a strained relationship between them, despite Rakel’s new lover Mathias (Jonas Karlsson) becoming a good and reliable provider. Harry receives a mysterious letter talking about him not being able to save a woman from dying, adorned with a drawing of a sad snowman on it. This leads him to the case of a missing woman with a sad snowman built outside her home, and a working partnership with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems very determined to solve who is behind this. Through flashbacks, we see this case may in fact have been in play nine years ago, as another (also drunken) detective named Rafto (Val Kilmer) was hunting for a killer behind some grisly murders. The only clues these detectives have are that the women being killed are mothers of children who don’t know who their fathers are… that and the presence of a creepy snowman, of course.

From the opening scene of THE SNOWMAN there’s something a little off, beginning with some awkward editing and rushed storytelling. As the events in the film unfold, it seems like we’re building into an impressive and engaging tale, but it degrades into a series of scenes that feel like there’s “in between” moments missing, and a somewhat rushed ending that doesn’t quite satisfy considering what came before it. Director Tomas Alfredson gives the proceedings a dark and gloomy tone that is also polished and slick in its presentation, and almost seemed like it could exist in the same universe as some of the aforementioned popular thrillers, though there’s no denying this film just isn’t as good or coherent.

The cast is a mix of powerhouse players and ill-fitting choices. Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson do their best to bring gravitas to their respective roles, but despite being the two main leads are largely separated from each other for most of the story. Charlotte Gainsbourg was an interesting choice as Harry’s ex-wife, but we never get quite enough back story to fully understand or care much about their relationship, or what happened to it. Plus the character of Harry Hole, being a drunk detective who has lost a step, makes for a protagonist that’s a little hard to root for. J.K. Simmons, who I normally love, feels very miscast as a wealthy Norwegian businessman with some sick habits – hearing his faint attempted accent just doesn’t work, and it almost seems more like a character reading taken out of a comedy more than one who would fit in this serious tale. Then there’s Val Kilmer, which is one of the most awkward and ultimately depressing aspects of the film. It pains me to write this, as I’ve met Val a few times in recent years, and at the time he still looked and sounded great… his Mark Twain play was excellent, and it almost felt like he was poised for a comeback. But in case you haven’t seen recent news, Kilmer has been battling tongue cancer and cannot speak now, and his treatment has led to rapid weight loss which has affected his image greatly. Here, he’s barely recognizable, and what’s worse is they dubbed over his dialogue with an incredibly ill-fitting voice, and at times the audio syncing doesn’t even match up. As a fan of his past work, this was not a pleasant way to see him back on the big screen. Based on audience murmurs around me, I’m not alone in that way of thinking either.

The day after seeing the screening, I read that Alfredson was quoted in an interview to say there were big sections of the script they were never able to film due to time or location logistics, and it almost helps make sense of the disjointed storytelling and sometimes rushed editing on display in THE SNOWMAN. It’s also at times disturbingly gory, feeling a bit gratuitous and unnecessary in a few scenes – in these types of stories, sometimes implying the violence is more effective than just showing it. While Jo Nesbø’s novel may have been a fan-favorite, it’s doubtful the film adaptation will leave much of an impression on moviegoers. Strong performances by the two leads and stylish direction can’t save what is ultimately an incomplete mess of a thriller.

THE SNOWMAN opens October 20, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.