Movie Review: ‘The Snowman’ Melts During Heated Finale
Logic test of a good whodunit: after the killer revealed, imagine the events of the story from their point of view. Does it still make sense? More often than not, the killer’s master plan will rely on great coincidence, convenient red herrings, and events that they could not have possibly predicted.
I expect this from most Hollywood thrillers, but The Snowman had me going for a while, even if the identity of the killer is relentlessly hinted at and should be obvious to anyone that has seen more than a few of these things before.
But that’s fine: directed by Thomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In), The Snowman is moody and atmospheric, well-acted throughout, and generates a great deal of mystery apart from just the identity of the killer. The bigger picture here includes motives and m.o. and how the gruesome murders relate to a potential scandal involving a top Oslo politician.
Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, a Norwegian detective and shameless alcoholic who we first meet waking up covered in snow in a children’s playground (wouldn’t he have frozen to death, I thought? Later, he gets a letter from the Snowman killer warning him of the same.)
Harry needs a hot murder case to take his mind of the booze, and while the Snowman Murders - in which a deranged killer leaves a glum snowman as his calling card, and sometimes even tops his icy creations with a severed head from his victims - what he really finds interesting are the secret motives of his new partner, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson).
So while Mister Snowman is terrorizing Oslo, Harry leaves his ex-wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and son/not-son (Michael Yates) behind while he travels to Bergen to investigate a nine-year-old cold case that may or may not be related to current events.
In flashbacks, we see Bergen detectives played by Toby Jones and Val Kilmer investigating a missing persons case involving a sleazy politician (J.K. Simmons). Kilmer, slowly morphing into Marlon Brando, is an odd distraction here, and has been poorly dubbed in post-production; I’m guessing his screentime has been reduced, too.
Also somehow involved in the Snowman case: a victim’s husband (James D’arcy), who has been lying to police; identical twin sisters (both played by Chloë Sevigny) with a mysterious husband who seem to hiding something; and a creepy gynecologist (David Dencik) who has been recruiting women for Simmons’ politician.
A generally first-rate production despite a few glaring flaws, Alfredson manages to string us along during most of the story as we wait for the puzzle to come together. Despite precious little detective work going on - Fassbender’s Hole doesn’t crack the case so much as sit back and let the killer come right to him - most of The Snowman is an entirely serviceable and cooly atmospheric Nordic thriller.
But then there’s the finale, an action setpiece jarringly out of tone with the the rest of the movie, in which nothing makes sense and all the loose strings are distressingly left untied. So that’s the killer’s motive? Then why did he kill him...or her? What does all of that have to do with anything? And what about this guy?
After our criminal mastermind walks off a ledge while being distracted a la Wile E. Coyote, the movie thinks it has resolved itself, and the credits quickly roll. But I was left with even more questions than before the reveal.
Something you never want to see during a film’s opening credits: “Edited by Claire Simpson.” Followed quickly by: “Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker”.
Apparently, a version of The Snowman put together by Oscar-winning editor Simpson (Platoon) didn’t pass muster, so Oscar-winning editor (and longtime Scorsese collaborator) Schoomaker was brought in to punch things up.
One might presume a similar thing happened with the screenplay, adapted from the Jo Nesbø bestseller by three credited writers including Hossein Amini (Drive) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).
But the more they tried to fix this movie, the worse it got. Glancing at a summary of the Nesbø book, it sounds like an interesting thriller - and one that only loosely resembles this Hollywood adaptation.