Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Snowman

(MA15+) ★★½

Director: Tomas Alfredson  

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Ronan Vibert, Chloë Sevigny, James D'Arcy, Jamie Clayton.

"I'm pretty sure I left my cocaine around here somewhere."

It doesn't bode well when a director is explaining why his film is not up to scratch as it's being released.

Such is the case with The Snowman, which is quite obviously a missed opportunity given the talent involved. To be fair, everyone has a fair crack at making it work and this Nordic thriller comes surprisingly close to being good. But with director Alfredson already doing the rounds apologising for the film, it's fair to say you will be disappointed by this one, especially if you're a fan of  Jo Nesbø's book.

The Snowman is a Norway-set murder mystery starring Fassbender as Nesbø's regular Harry Hole, an alcoholic yet brilliant detective who is on the trail of a killer who leaves a snowman as his calling card.

The simple answer as to why The Snowman doesn't work can be found in Alfredson's interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation: they didn't shoot everything they needed to shoot.

"Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing," Alfredson said.

"It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture. When we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing."

Even having Martin Scorsese's regular editor Thelma Schoonmaker in the editing suite can't save the fact The Snowman is trying to juggle numerous narrative balls, and some of those balls aren't entirely there. Nesbø's complex plotting isn't replicated well enough and the film suffers, particularly by the time we reach the disappointing final act.

It's a shame because there is so much talent here. Alfredson is a great director (his two previous films are Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and The Snowman certainly looks great, although he is unable to conjure up the same level of snowy dread as he did in Let The Right One In. Fassbender is solid if unremarkable as Hole, while Ferguson, Sevigny, and Gainsbourg are all great here.

There's no shortage of gold as you dig into the cast and maybe the editing and short shoot haven't done some of them any favours. Kilmer is baffling in his little role, as if he's channelling late-period Brando, while the efforts of Simmons and Jones are wasted (Simmons' British accent could also use some work).

It's all a big shame. With its setting and tone, this is clearly aspiring to be the next The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but it's not even close. For long stretches the film keeps you guessing by offering scant and unconvincing details, but the more it progresses, the more you realise it doesn't have any answers at all, devolving into a bafflingly bad final act that undoes whatever goodwill it manifested in the previous 90 minutes.

The Snowman is not up to Alfredson's usually impeccable standards, it's another trough in Fassbender's up-down career, and it will leave fans of the book wondering why they bothered.

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