Crime novel adaptations to the screen seem to not be faring too well. Last year’s The Girl on the Train is the most recent example, but now we have The Snowman to take up the mantle. Let’s just hope that Murder on the Orient Express does some justice to its source material and to the medium of cinema.
The Snowman begins in a flashback, in which a child witnesses the abuse of his mother at the hands of a police officer. This flashback establishes our killer, but it doesn’t feel very connected to the rest of the film. Mainly because, aside from establishing the arbitrary M.O. of our serial killer, the flashback serves no narrative purpose.
Where the film really starts is with Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, and no I am not writing a MAD Magazine parody strip right now. That is his name.) asleep and hungover out in the cold Norwegian morning. He’s a crack pot detective, we later hear other people say. But he doesn’t really do all that much. Mostly, he grimaces his way through scenes looking as if he’d rather be doing anything but his job.
Fassbender has always been a fine actor. He will always have Hunger as a testament to that. His performance in The Snowman, however, is noticeably lethargic. So noticeable that it actively saps the energy from the movie that he is acting within. This is the man we are following through the twisty annals of the mystery plot, and he could seemingly care less about the whole ordeal.
Even when he comes across a dead body that is meant to shock him, Fassbender just grits his teeth and stares off-screen as if to say to the crew “Is this really how we’re doing this scene?”
Rebecca Ferguson perhaps fares better, as her character is given emotions, but she too is rather icy. That these two lead characters are so cold is unfortunate, given that the film is already doused with a winter landscape that is interminably bleak and literally monochromatic.
Speaking of twisty annals, The Snowman is a crime mystery that puts much more of its emphasis on the former. It feels as though the studio optioned this story just to have clever snowman-mixed-with-death imagery. The elaborate staging of the mystery is much more important to the filmmaker (Tomas Alfredson, who is most well-known for another adaptation Let the Right One In) than the mystery itself.
Alfredson has come out, in light of all of The Snowman’s negative press, to say that the film comes off haphazard and narratively trying because they did not have time to shoot the entire script. It does not seem a valid excuse to say that the film is not as good as we had hoped because they did not shoot “10-15%” of the script.
But that excuse does explain the deficiency of the film. The Snowman unravels like a mystery without the beats that make it intriguing as a mystery. There is a red herring here or there, but they are obvious and staged to be so. And the final reveal is more of an exasperated “Wait, what? Why?” moment than an “Oh my god!” one.
The film has an interesting look to it (again, a bleak look, but that’s what they were going for). The acting is fine, although Val Kilmer’s need to be dubbed with ADR the entire movie and one scene involving J.K. Simmons talking to Rebecca Ferguson makes for unintentional hilarity that very easily took me out of the world of the film. The death scenes are staged in engaging ways, at times.
But The Snowman is no fun as a mystery. It is inert and stagnant when it comes to building the suspense that would allow for the mystery reveal to mean anything. It does feel like entire sequences were left out of the film (again, that is exactly what happened), making the puzzle of the film feel much less satisfying. You put all of the pieces together and the center is full of holes.
The Snowman: D+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)