Based on the novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, The Snowman follows Oslo detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), an alcoholic whose addiction pushes away his girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their son (Michael Yates), who does not even know Hole is his father. But when Snow is not downing a bottle, he’s a masterful detective currently investigating a winter-based serial killer who leaves snowmen near the scene of the crimes. His partner on the case is new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). This case begins to signal something bigger, and the investigation threatens both them and those they are closest to.
The Snowman has a lot of talent behind it. Director Tomas Alfredson made a splash at the Academy Awards with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. A supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones and Chloë Sevigny joins the talented Fassbender and Ferguson. Martin Scorsese serves as executive producer after almost directing the film. All the ingredients are there.
However, that pedigree has come together to produce something as plain as the snow Fassbender treks across. This mystery goes sour quickly because the focus shifts across varying areas. Fassbender and Ferguson’s investigation is intercut with scenes of Simmons as a sleazy businessman and scenes involving another alcoholic cop portrayed by Kilmer. All of these smaller pieces never fit into a cohesive whole, making the mystery of who the killer is confusing, and the subsequent reveal wanting. There is a sense of uncertainty to the story, even down to the camera angles and the erratic way it is edited. All of it does not feel like it is propelling the story forward.
Guiding us through the story are actors who just seem like they are aimlessly wandering through snow, streets and buildings in search of purpose. Fassbender has an ability to bring us into the psychological state of his characters, but that does not happen here, as he is not given much to do. Simmons, Jones, Gainsbourg and Sevigny are equally wasted. Everyone seems bored, while Kilmer just seems unsure. His manner of speech and disheveled look are off-putting and bizarre. The only sense of life comes from Ferguson, who is able to bring a spark to this cold story.
It is honestly too bad that there is no narrative momentum, because on a technical level, Dion Beebe’s cinematography paints the snowy landscapes of Norway beautifully and Marco Beltrami contributes an atmospheric soundtrack that combines the ethereal with the melodic. Gruesome images like severed heads on top of snowmen are interesting visual ideas as well.
The Snowman’s potential to be a thrilling and thought-provoking crime thriller is hampered by an unfocused and dull story and talented actors stranded in one-dimensional roles. Its twisted and atmospheric imagery is to be admired, but without a compelling mystery and characters at the center, its visual flair is for naught. It’s best if we just let this snowman melt. | Bill Loellke