Michael Fassbender is having a tough time of it. Twice in the last 12 months he’s attempted to kick-start a new franchise. And twice, with Assassin’s Creed and now The Snowman, it looks like his efforts will be abandoned after just one film.
Sadly, it all fails to hang together.
Fassbender is Harry Hole — a drunk, an unreliable father figure, and the best damn detective on the Oslo police force. He just needs a case to focus him. Cue new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) letting him tag along on her missing persons case which, of course, turns out to have far more to it than first appears. Namely, its relation to a number of cold cases and an unusual calling card — each victim is found near a freshly built snowman.
Based on the seventh novel in Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s (currently 11-strong) series and directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the initial signs were good. Add to that a startling supporting cast (Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny and Toby Jones all show up for small roles) and the continuing interest in Scandi-noir, and it should be a no brainer. Sadly, it all fails to hang together.
Many of the problems stem from the storytelling, which takes many disparate parts — two different flashback timelines, a bid to host the Winter Sports World Cup led by J.K. Simmons’ Arve Støp, and Hole’s investigation and his family life— but fails to knit them together into a cohesive whole. As a result, watching the film feels like a trudge through deep snow, and when its revelations come, they fail to make the desired impact.
Alfredson certainly seems to know the genre, or at least David Fincher’s version of it, with elements of Seven, Zodiac and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo all identifiable. Sadly, this doesn’t come close to the level of those films. And because we’re not being swept along by the story, its more bizarre elements stand out for ridicule — the police force’s new portable but unfeasibly bulky ‘hidden’ cameras the size of laptops; a weird non-sex sex scene between Fassbender and Charlotte Gainsbourg playing his ex; Val Kilmer nonchalantly firing his gun to scare some birds in an area that looks primed for an avalanche.
It does have its moments — a particularly grisly crime scene sees one victim’s decapitated head discovered perched atop a snowman’s body — but ultimately they just serve to highlight the film’s wasted potential. The Harry Hole novels are too popular to think this is the only time they’ll be adapted. But it would be a surprise to see Fassbender pull on the troubled detective’s shabby green coat again.