With a prologue that firmly establishes our eventual killer’s motives, The Snowman follows Jo Nesbø’s literary detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) as he partners with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to pursue a rash of murders occurring in their small Norwegian town. Each victim’s disappearance is preceded by an ominous snowman facing their respective home, and often a clue dropped directly in Harry’s lap. This killer is taunting our detectives, and surely will deliver a few surprises along the way, unless Harry find’s him first.
Michael Fassbender needs new representation. I don’t say that as some dig on the vastly talented actor, in fact, it’s just the opposite. Fassbender has long established himself as one of the stronger entertainers of his era, so why does he consistently pick material akin to Assassin’s Creed, Alien Covenant, Song to Song, and now The Snowman? This brand of lackadaisical mediocrity is typically reserved for actors on the downward turn, which Fassbender clearly is not. One more dud like this, and his name might morph into a verb (“Did you guys see that new flick? We’ve been Fassbendered”).
As easy as it would be to continually point out the juvenile distinction of portraying a character named Harry Hole with a straight face – though the actual pronunciation is closer to “holy” – the more pressing matter is how stoically forceful Fassbender approaches the role. He is a damn talented actor and it’s disenchanting to once again witness his gifts squandered on a project unworthy. Both he and Rebecca Ferguson are pulling every trick from their acting arsenal to invigorate this droll exercise in meandering and shock it to cinematic life, yet the script refuses to cooperate at nearly every turn.
As Hole and Bratt arrive at each crime scene too little and far too late, the actors exchange awkward encounters and unconnected plot points that fail to ever effectively demonstrate any semblance of a cohesive narrative. The pieces are all here, and you can appreciate director Tomas Alfredson’s (Let the Right One In) sense of sweeping vistas and love of a grand snowfall, yet time and time again the sluggish pacing and gaping plot holes derail the film every chance it’s afforded to correct its own course. That’s not to say that The Snowman is a “bad” film, rather, it is to say it just showcases no sense of its own identity. This script is almost as lost as its own hero.
Speaking of, Harry Hole is given only character tics to work with, completely forgoing fully realized character development. We know he’s a drunk with an ex-girlfriend whose son he maintains a familial relationship with, but that is about as far as anyone seems to want this character to go. Each time Hole’s arc approaches substance, another odd tonal shift or ominous ice sculpture arrives, sending Fassbender back to basics. Katrine Bratt is a bit more involved and nuanced as the story pushes on, unfortunately Ferguson’s character is far too incidental to salvage the errors plaguing the script.
Then there is the issue of the killer himself and the subsequent random placements in the film’s timeline to decipher his story. Regardless of its inclusion in the original novel or not, establishing the motives immediately in the prologue takes a swift upper cut to the eventual reveal. And a previous detective’s bout with the killer – played by the great Val Kilmer, who is horrifically dubbed for reasons beyond my comprehension – proves so distracting with its out-of-nowhere transitions that it mentally yanks the audience from the film with the strength of Jaws pulling a tugboat.
After a few years settle in, the producers of The Snowman can look to the film as a missed opportunity. Serial killer thrillers are in short supply these days, and with a cast and crew this talented (J.K. Simmons and Toby Jones are also wasted as mere footnotes), a miss of this magnitude will surely be felt by everyone involved. There is greatness hiding somewhere in the shadows within these frames. Unfortunately, the film ultimately proves to be a case unworthy of Harry Hole’s time and efforts. In fact, the only disappearance Michael Fassbender should be investigating after this colossal whiff are his agents.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons
Screenplay by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup
Directed by Tomas Alfredson