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‘The Snowman’ (review by Elizabeth Robbins)

Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner,
Robyn Slovo, Peter Gustafsson
Screenplay by Hossein Amini,
Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup
Based on The Snowman by Jo Nesbø
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson,
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons,
Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny, James D’Arcy

 

The Snowman is a thriller about a serial killer targeting women in the safe/low-crime rate city of Oslo, Norway.

His calling card is an seemingly harmless, yet melancholy snowman.

Based on the novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, The Snowman follows detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, Alien:Covenant), a talented detective who’s career is threatened by his alcoholism.

A modern day Sherlock Holmes, Harry only has his addiction under control when there is a challenging case to solve.

Harry receives a strangely written letter that seems to have little importance and dismisses it. Harry’s interest is peaked when he sees new detective, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) smuggling sensitive files. Feeding his addiction for mystery, he inserts himself into her daily routine to get a look at the files and becomes entangled in her investigation. While accompanying Bratt in her investigations, it becomes clear to Harry that his mysterious letter is not so random.

If you are not a viewer who has much experience with James Patterson type thrillers or Agatha Christie-esque mysteries, you will probably enjoy The Snowman. If you are you have had exposure to either of these two genres, you will see the “who done it?” a mile away. There is very little mystery to this mystery. The red herrings and misdirection are so ham-fisted that it makes for weak storytelling. I have no idea how close to the original novel the screenplay is, and I am of the opinion that it shouldn’t matter. A film should be able to stand on it’s own without the use of supplementary material. The story is disjointed and goes in pointless directions in an effort to misdirect the audience, but when it is simple to figure out the bad guy ⅓ of the way through the film, the misdirection feel like a waste of time.

The disjointed storytelling maybe the result of three screenwriters with distinct styles working on the script. Each of the writers have some excellent projects under their belts. Søren Sveistrup is in familiar territory after working on the TV series The Killing. Hossein Amini is best now for the Ryan Gosling breakthrough Drive. And finally, Peter Straughan did the screenplay adaptation for the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It could be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. What should have been a script honed by professionals at the top of their game felt like a first draft or 2nd draft script.

Some plotlines and side characters were completely underdeveloped, leaving me wondering why they were brought up at all. The timeline jumps back jarringly to a previous investigation that gives little meat to the present-time case. It introduces characters that are one dimensional, who when it’s revealed is linked to the present-time protagonist, it falls flat because it is neither a surprise nor did I have any emotional investment in the connection.

While not having much to work with story wise, the team of director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In) and his actors do bring out some performance that save the film. Michael Fassbender’s is a solid performance. While not having much to work with in the crime story, the side plot dealing with his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia) and her son feels authentic and goes a long way to give his character of Harry Hole a soul. A bullpen of British character actors give the world of The Snowman some grounding, from Ronan Vibert as Harry’s supportive superior to James D’Arcy as one of the missing woman’s grieving husband.

Another saving grace of the film is the cinematography. Dion Beebe, who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Memoirs for a Geisha contrasts beautiful, sweeping nordic vista with the grotesqueness of the murders. Although, it seems some of Beebe’s camera work is hampered by uneven editing of the film.

Again, two masters are given a job, and it seems each editor’s style is at odds with the other. Thelma Schoonmaker is a longtime editor of Martin Scorsese (who is also one of the executive producers of The Snowman), and Claire Simpson has worked on some of Oliver Stone’s films. It would be interesting to know if one editor started the project and the other was brought in for a second cut. The film definite feels like that was the case. In a few of the film’s action scenes, one editing rhythm would be interrupted mid scene with a different series of cuts disrupting the cadence of the action. The editing coupled with the uneven script made a jumbled mess of a story.

Instead of The Snowman keeping me on the edge of my seat, it left me wondering if I should of skipped the movie and just read the book.

 

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