Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
In 2011, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson adapted John le Carre’s espionage novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the big screen and the result was a meticulously detailed, terrifically plotted drama that earned Gary Oldman his long-overdue first Oscar nomination. Flash-forward to 2017 and the director is finally delivering his follow-up, an adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s popular thriller The Snowman. But unfortunately, the director has seemingly lost his way with this one. Instead of meticulous details and suspenseful plotting, we get a mess of a movie that can’t get out of its own way as it fails to deliver on anything it promised.
Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, an Oslo detective whose reputation precedes him. Teaming up with a new detective on the force played by Rebecca Ferguson, Hole rides along for the investigation into a missing person case that soon leads to murder that may have ties to a similar one committed nine years earlier. When he begins spotting some creepy-looking snowmen at the crime scenes that match the drawing of one on a letter he received, Hole begins to suspect that the killer may be toying with him.
You would think based on that plot description, the marketing, and the novel itself that the snowmen and letters would play a major role in the story, but for some reason they don’t. Only two letters show up in the film and because of the movie’s fractured editing, it was not even clear whether it was Hole who received the second one or not. And the letters never factor into the plot in any meaningful way, outside of Hole telling someone once that he got one. Neither do the snowmen, for that matter, existing as little more than markers of the crime scenes. There are two brief instances in which the snowmen are creatively blended in with the murders, but that again is a set up that never really pays off.
The movie’s problems begin almost immediately. After a brief prologue which never felt as shocking or as crucial as it should have in setting up the killer’s motivations, the movie’s opening act is a disjointed collection of scenes that often feel very out-of-place when edited up against each other. There’s no logical progression as the movie struggles through its first act in much the same way that Fassbender’s character does marching through waist-high snow.
The movie’s final act isn’t any better. After trying to lure the audience into falling for an obvious red herring, the movie finally introduces its killer and then gives us a standoff between our hero and villain that ends in the most anti-climactic way imaginable. And if that wasn’t enough, the movie then has the gall to try and quickly set up a possible sequel.
Not that a sequel wouldn’t be possible. Harry Hole is a popular literary detective featured in eleven popular books, so the material is there. And Jo Nesbo novels have been successfully adapted to film in the past (see 2011’s Headhunters). I don’t know if Michael Fassbender would be the best one to carry the character forward, though. As ideal of casting as it sounded ahead of time, it often feels like he is sleepwalking through this one and nothing he does in this movie made me think ‘world’s greatest detective.’ And while we’re at it, both J.K. Simmons and Val Kilmer felt incredibly miscast; Simmons with a mysterious accent and Kilmer sounding like his voice was dubbed.
The movie is not all bad. There were a few great shots that stood out, usually taking advantage of the chilly Norwegian landscape, and I quite enjoyed the gala that had skiers and hockey players skating amidst all the partygoers. But for a serial killer thriller, the movie lacks any suspense, thrills, or creativity. This is unfortunate, because the material itself seems like the perfect starting place for another Seven or The Silence of the Lambs. Sadly, all we get is one rapidly melting Snowman.