There is a lot of talent involved with the serial killer thriller . Martin Scorsese was once set to direct, and he remains an executive producer. His longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker cut the film. Director Tomas Alfredson was behind the excellent, eerie teenage vampire flick Let the Right One In. And the cast is peppered with actors who have all given great performances in their past. And yet, The Snowman goes wrong in almost every way a movie can.
We can probably start with the name of the film's hero, which is Harry Hole. Now, I realize the character has been the center of a number of popular novels by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, and that in Norway, the name is pronounced "ho-leh." But no one in the movie speaks Norwegian, or even attempts a realistic Norwegian accent, so he's addressed as "Hole" throughout.
Which actually proves to be pretty apt, since the character as written and ultimately played by Michael Fassbender is a gaping black hole of nothingness. He's given no definitive backstory. His biggest personality trait is that he's a drunk, but he's never seen drunk after the movie's opening. He's supposed to be a brilliant detective whose work is taught to students in the academy, and yet all the sleuthing he does in the film consists of him reading files and ignoring the plethora of clues the camera seems to notice more than he does.
He lives alone, but is still in contact with an ex-girlfriend, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), having developed a fatherly connection with her fatherless teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates). Rakel has an amiable new boyfriend, Mathias (Jonas Karlsson) who doesn't seem to mind Harry's involvement, likely because Harry always seems to forget about the kid anyway. When a young detective named Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) joins the force, Harry becomes interested in one of her cases, centered on a missing wife and mother that seems to follow a pattern of similar disappearances in Oslo, and may have a connection to a murder in a neighboring city a decade earlier.
While the movie is set in Norway, everyone in the cast either speaks with their own accents, or a vaguely Nordic sounding variation. It's at the very least distracting, and at worst off-putting, like you've stepped into a weird, unidentifiable country where nothing seems to fit together or make sense. Everyone has Norwegian names, but they're pronounced wrong. It's winter and snow is everywhere, but no one wears gloves. Abandoned cabins on lonely mountaintops seem to be at the disposal of every citizen. And Harry Hole has no discernible personality, but women can't resist him. (Which, OK, Michael Fassbender. But still.)
The trailer and ad campaign make it seem like this is a serial killer movie where the killer plays cat and mouse with the cops, sending them taunting notes, and leaving behind grisly crime scenes with macabre signatures, but all of that is only hinted at. It's like watching the Cliffs Notes version of a longer movie. Clues are left behind and never investigated. (Are all the close-ups of cigarette butts left behind by the killer supposed to mean something? Or does the director just like how butts look in the snow? Are we supposed to think the film's prologue might be about Harry? And why does Harry carry his stuff in a plastic grocery bag?)
For some inexplicable reason, Chloë Sevigny plays twins. J.K. Simmons shows up as a local mogul campaigning to get the World's Cup played in Oslo. He also may or may not be involved in some kind of human trafficking, but he definitely enjoys taking pictures of women while using an unnecessary flash setting on his camera phone. Toby Jones has what amounts to a useless cameo that probably started off as a bigger role, but ended up with his character giving exposition and getting pissy at an office birthday party.
The whole thing is perplexing, and then becomes downright baffling when Val Kilmer shows up in a flashback, giving a performance so awkward I cringed during every second of his screen time. Kilmer has recently battled what might have been mouth cancer, which involved the removal of a tongue tumor that left him with an altered voice, which probably explains why every word of his dialog had to be dubbed in. But I feel like they still used Kilmer's voice, which at the time of looping had clearly not returned to normal. As a result, his dialog is limited and a lot of it is spoken while a camera is pointed at the back of his head. The rest of his performance is not memorable in any way an actor would want to be remembered, which just makes one ponder why they cast him in the first place.
I'll give The Snowman this: There is something appealing about a grisly story set in such pristine surroundings, and seeing the police trudging through snow makes you realize what a genuine pain in the ass it must be to process crimes scenes during a Scandinavian winter. The cinematography is lovely, and while switching the story's setting to a country that might have made more sense given its cast, it would have also meant losing the only redeemable thing about the movie: all that beautiful snow, those iced-over lakes, clean cities centered between gorgeous white capped mountains, and minimalist interiors. Alas, it is not enough to save a movie that is as emotionally engaging as your average IKEA catalog, with about as much plot.The Snowman