(US/UK/Sweden - 2017)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini and Soren Sviestrup. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Jonas Karlsson, Chloe Sevigny, Toby Jones, James D'Arcy, David Dencik, Ronan Vibert, Genevieve O'Reilly, Jacob Oftebro, Adrian Dunbar, Michael Yates, Jamie Clayton, Peter Dalle, Sofia Helin, Leonard Heinemann. (R, 120 mins)
THE SNOWMAN is the first big-screen adaptation of Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series. Though I believe the intended pronunciation is "Hol-uh," the fact that they didn't take into consideration that the name "Harry Hole" is only going to induce Beavis & Butthead snickers for English-speaking and American audiences, especially since they just say "Hole" throughout the movie (I've read two of Nesbo's Hole novels, and it's easy to overlook on the page) is a good indication that this was never going to work. Nesbo's books--his non-Hole novel Headhunters was turned into a film in 2011--were part of the post-Stieg Larsson/Girl with the Dragon Tattoo explosion that launched the Scandinavian mystery subgenre into the literary mainstream (see also Henning Mankell's Wallander novels, adapted for television with Kenneth Branagh in the title role, and Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, which was turned into a movie trilogy) and generated renewed interest in older works by the influential Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, and others. THE SNOWMAN is a bit fashionably late to the party as far as movie adaptations of Scandinavian noir go, and it was originally conceived several years ago with Martin Scorsese planning to direct. Scorsese eventually left the project in 2013 as it was put in turnaround but remains credited as a producer, having passed it on to Tomas Alfredson to direct when it was given the green light again in late 2015. Alfredson has two classics to his credit--2008's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and 2011's TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY--but THE SNOWMAN looks like a film that's been so mangled in post-production that everyone involved simply walked away and gave up trying to fix it. After the film opened to disastrous reviews in Europe, Alfredson attempted to do some damage control in the days prior to the US release, saying that the film was rushed into production with little planning, and when it came time to hit the editing room, he found that he only had, by his own admission, "85%" of the footage he needed, forcing him to use voiceovers and restructure character arcs in an attempt to put everything together. The Band-Aids precariously holding THE SNOWMAN together are all too obvious, starting with several name actors having nothing to do with anything, at least two critical subplots dropped without explanation, that there's a plethora of credits for "additional photography" and a team of editors (including Scorsese's legendary secret weapon and right hand Thelma Schoonmaker), and the fact that virtually none of the footage, dialogue, or implied plot developments in the trailer are actually in the movie. If you're enough of a film nerd, you can tell when a movie has had a troubled production and the end result is barely hanging together. And if you're familiar at all with film editing, you know that if Thelma Schoonmaker can't make it work, then it just wasn't meant to be.
location work in Norway, and I'm a sucker for cold, snowy, depressing mysteries. As the glum, alcoholic Hole, Michael Fassbender keeps the story interesting even as it's falling apart at the seams. In relatively crime-free Oslo, a serial killer is decapitating single mothers and putting their severed heads on snowmen (the mechanism used is similar to that seen in Dario Argento's 1993 film TRAUMA). He also seems to be stalking cold-case detective Hole, sending him a taunting note calling him "Mister Police." Hole has nothing to do ("I'm sorry about Oslo's extremely low murder rate," his boss tells him) and can go on weeklong benders with no none really noticing he's gone, so he teams with younger investigator Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems hellbent on tying wealthy Oslo politician and businessman Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) and fertility doctor Idvar Vetlesen (David Dencik, a fixture in Scandinavian mystery adaptations) to the murders. Hole also digs into secret files Katrine has stashed away about a similar string of killings nine years earlier in Bergen, which were investigated by corrupt detective Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer). Hole's obsession with cracking the case puts a strain on his relationship with Oleg (Michael Yates), the teenage son of his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Hole is still on good terms with Rakel, even though she's involved with shrink Matthias Lund-Helgesen (Jonas Karlsson), but Hole sticks around because Oleg has always viewed him as a father figure and, unbeknownst to the boy, Hole is his biological father (not a spoiler--it's divulged very early).