Mark Reviews Movies

The Snowman


1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tomas Alfredson

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

MPAA Rating: R (for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 10/20/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 20, 2017

Everything about The Snowman is pretty straightforward, in that it tells the story of the investigation of a series of murders across two generations, and it does so without stopping for any details. The screenplay by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrip is at times confounding, although it's not because it picks up with the seventh novel in Jo Nesbø's series about Oslo-based detective Harry Hole (Before you ask, yes, his surname is pronounced in English, without the Danish accenting, which would prevent it from sounding rather dirty).

Such series don't really have a cohesive, multi-book narrative, because most authors of pulp crime fiction know that their readership will likely pick a series at any given installment. Each story is usually self-contained.

That's the case here, as Harry's back story is suggested near the beginning. After that, it's all about the investigation. It's only about the investigation, really, and that's why it becomes so confusing at times. We're expecting the details, because those are what keep us from paying too much attention to the plotting, which usually falls apart with any close inspection. Here, we only get the plot. There's little reason to care about it, since we only know that Harry is an alcoholic with commitment issues, that his partner is incredibly invested in the crimes, and that there's an elusive killer on the loose, taunting the police with notes and snowmen—both physical ones and a child-like drawing of one that serves as the killer's signature.

That's his calling card, for reasons that we vaguely learn during a prologue involving a single mother, an abusive lover, and their progeny—a young boy who witnesses his mother's suicide. Since the movie is in such a rush to cover as much plot as possible, we don't even get the twisted fun of the pop-psychology of the killer, who has abducted a woman in the present day.

Harry (Michael Fassbender, playing the role as if he's taking naps in between takes and doesn't quite wake up all the way) has been having problems with his drinking and his inability to keep commitments to his ex-girlfriend Rakel's (Charlotte Gainsbourg) son Oleg (Michael Yates). He wants a case to keep his mind focused, and this missing person seems like a start. Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a new investigator with the department, seems to have a good idea about the abductor/killer's motives and methods.

In the past, there's another investigation of similar abductions and murders, and it's led by Rafto (Val Kilmer, with all of his lines noticeably dubbed in post-production), who also has a problem with alcohol. There's a reason for the flashbacks, which eventually give a little motivation to one character, although it's mostly so that the movie can provide more plot and more scenes of the horrid murders. One involves the killer placing a snowman on what's left of the devastated head of someone who has taken a point-blank shotgun blast, and another features a decapitation by means of a thin wire. The head ends up topping another snowman.

To its credit, the movie does achieve a certain, dreadful atmosphere. Director Tomas Alfredson tries to offer something more than just a lot of talk about the killings, a lot of back-and-forth between crime scenes and relatives of the victims (Chloë Sevigny shows up in a dual role as both a victim and a relative, seemingly because someone felt bad about having her appear, just to be murdered a minute or so later), and repetitive scenes of Harry screwing up his personal life and not getting any closer to the truth. The movie is shot in a dingy gray palette by cinematographer Dion Beebe, and it is as bleak as it sometimes makes darker scenes nearly indecipherable.

Most of the other characters exist as red herrings, although it's never entirely clear if anyone behind or in front of the camera realizes that purpose. Everything is played straight, without any sense of suspicion, which makes scenes involving a tycoon, played by J.K. Simmons, trying to get the Winter Games in Oslo and a "pregnancy doctor" (the movie's actual words), played by David Dencik, into narrative and dramatic dead ends. Entire plot threads are dropped without any to-do, either because they serve no purpose or because a character dies.

It's not so much a mystery, then, as it is a straight line from the movie's prologue to its finale, with the only revelation of note being which of the supporting characters is the killer—a choice made seemingly at random. It all makes sense if one ignores all of the diversions, but doing that makes The Snowman considerably shorter. That's probably a good thing.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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