The Snowman Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
Unfortunately named detective Harry Hole has starred in 11 crime novels by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, which have sold millions of copies around the world, including in the U.S., so he’s a prime candidate for a major film franchise. The Snowman, based on the seventh Harry Hole novel, doesn’t give him an auspicious start, though, despite plenty of talent involved in bringing the character to the big screen. Michael Fassbender plays Harry, a brilliant but self-destructive Oslo police detective, and the movie never shows anything about him to set him apart from dozens of other brilliant but self-destructive movie detectives. Fassbender’s disengaged performance mainly consists of staring vaguely into the distance like he’s trying to remember his lines (Harry is a man of few words).
Teamed with eager new partner Kristine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who studied his cases in school, Harry is assigned a missing-persons case that’s soon revealed to be the work of a serial killer, who does typical movie-serial-killer stuff like send Harry cryptic notes about his crimes and leave a calling card behind with each victim. This particular killer builds snowmen, with expressions that look like the “meh” emoji, which are far more silly than menacing. None of these affectations really have any bearing on solving the case, which comes down to a particularly ludicrous illustration of Roger Ebert’s law of economy of characters (there appear to be only a dozen or so people in Norway, all of them connected to this crime).
Director Tomas Alfredson previously made two excellent book-to-screen adaptations (Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), so it’s especially disappointing to see him fail to capture the excitement or suspense or unease of a good crime thriller. The movie is disjointed and sometimes hard to follow, with scenes that start or end abruptly, narrative threads that go nowhere (Kristine’s entire character arc turns out to be a complete dead end) and poorly inserted flashbacks featuring a bizarre performance from an almost unrecognizable Val Kilmer as a detective investigating a possibly related case from nine years earlier. Chloë Sevigny shows up in a couple of scenes as twin sisters, for no apparent reason. There are no Norwegians in the main cast, and everyone speaks English in the kind of indistinct accent that makes them sound like they come from nowhere.
The frozen Norwegian landscape looks great, at least, and a prologue set during the killer’s childhood is appropriately unnerving. But his subsequent violent acts never achieve the same level of creepiness, instead serving mostly to marginalize and brutalize the already underserved female characters. The movie ends with Harry agreeing to take on another uniquely gruesome case, but it seems likely that his further adventures will remain on the page only.