The body of a desirable young woman artfully displayed at a crime scene. A tauntingly sadistic serial killer with an offbeat calling card. And a drunken, rulebook-shredding cop with a penchant for flattering winter wear. Director Tomas Alfredson has dusted off every moth-eaten crime drama cliche he can find for this half-baked adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman. But while the latest Scandi-noir thriller certainly has the look of a classic crime drama, dig a little deeper and you’ll find little more than a hackneyed murder mystery lacking in pace and originality.
Michael Fassbender is Harry Hole, a booze addicted detective and forgetful father-figure whose once promising career hangs in the balance unless he can find a new case to help him get back on track. Fortunately for him, plucky new recruit Kathrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) lets him tag along on the case of a missing woman whose body is found near a freshly built snowman. Needless to say, there’s more to the crime than meets the eye, as the mismatched duo uncover links to a previously unsolved cold case.
Scripted by Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini – who penned the Oscar winning screenplay for Drive – and directed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s Alfredson, the early signs were promising for this adaptation of the seventh of Nesbo’s Harry Hole novels. Yet while Alfredson beautifully captures the breathtaking isolation Oslo’s icy landscape, almost everything else about this film is a tangled mess.
Many of its problems stem from a script that feels cobbled together out of disparate parts that don’t quite mesh. The investigation feels like a long slog through the snowy wilderness as the plot stumbles between different timelines that have little connective tissue between them. As a result, the resolution to the case fails to have the desired impact, offering only tenuous links rather than the devastating revelations intended.
Alfredson also struggles to gain a firm grasp of the film’s tone. The director displays a David Fincher-esque eye for macabre imagery – a shot of child’s toy drenched in blood is particularly unsettling. Yet this sits uncomfortably alongside the quirkier elements of Alfredson’s style, such as the police force’s anachronistic portable tablets, which are bulkier than most TV sets, or any scene involving Val Kilmer’s hammy detective, who appears to be acting in an entirely different film.
Still, at least Kilmer can claim to be having fun with his role, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast. The Snowman boasts a startling supporting cast, including the likes of J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones and Chloë Sevigny, but such talents are rarely afforded time to make an impact, playing a conveyor belt of unlikely suspects and easy chicken fodder for the real killer. Fassbender also struggles, failing to truly sell the personal turmoil Hole suffers in trying to solve the murders – even if he does inevitably look the part as handsomely dishevelled anti-hero.
It’s Rebecca Ferguson who really shines as typically overzealous rookie Bratt. The revelation of what drives her reckless desperation to find the killer is the film’s most powerfully devastating moment and it’s a shame her character is inexplicably sidelined during the film’s final third, her impulsive actions robbing her of the opportunity for revenge.
If the intention was for this film to kick-start a franchise for Oslo’s finest detective, The Snowman is an abominable misfire. There’s little in this lacklustre and weightless thriller to suggest there’s any reason for Fassbender to dig out his tatty green duffle coat anytime soon. Perhaps he can find a place to hang it up next to his Assassin’s Creed garb…
Runtime: 119 mins (approx.)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriters: Peter Straugan, Hossein Amini
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones