In theory, there’s a good movie swirling around The Snowman. The drab, snowy Norwegian setting is an effective canvas for a Nordic noir. The film has an award-winning director in Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), two Oscar-winning editors, a pair of Oscar-nominated screenwriters, and Martin freakin’ Scorsese as executive producer. The glittering cast includes J.K. Simmons, Rebecca Ferguson, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Michael Fassbender as detective Harry Hole.
But there’s an early, seemingly innocuous clue that things are awry when a character refers to a city being “a hundred miles away” from Oslo. (Norway introduced the metric system in 1887.) Unfortunately, the faults run much deeper than that. The Snowman is a half-thawed thriller, with little substance and an abstruse story that immediately melts from your memory.
The cold open (no pun intended) appears to establish an essential element of the backstory of Oslo detective Harry Hole, but it turns out to be an elaborate misdirection in the service of a plot twist that leaves him stripped of any meaningful character development. This is an adaptation of the seventh of Jo Nesbø’s eleven Harry Hole novels, and the film appears to assume a literary familiarity lost on cinema audiences.
So we’re left with a glum gumshoe and misanthropic junkie whose demons are unknown. We’re told he’s an addict and a famous detective, but we never see him drink or use drugs, and little evidence is offered to support the latter assertion. At worst, he’s a lame boyfriend, even though his off-and-on-again ex, Rakel (Gainsbourg), has moved on with a physician (James D’Arcy). Hole is portrayed as some sort of a bad dad to Rakel’s son, even though Hole isn’t even his father.
Hole and new partner Katrine Bratt (Ferguson) team up to investigate a series of unsolved crimes involving women being kidnapped and/or brutally killed. The perpetrator’s calling card is a snowman he somehow finds time to build at every crime scene—sometimes all snow, sometimes adorned with human body parts. Floating around the murder mystery is a pervy philanthropist (Simmons), another detective (Jones), an abortion doctor, and Chloë Sevigny playing twins. Alfredson even exhumes the corpse of Val Kilmer, decidedly post rigor mortis, to mumble and stumble as another drunk but inexplicably brilliant detective, seen during useless flashbacks.
“You can’t force the pieces to fit,” Hole tells Bratt, the irony dripping off the screen. Little makes sense, from the reasons why the victims are targeted to the motives of the killer. It doesn’t help that the film is haphazardly edited and glacially slow. Alfredson has already complained that he wasn’t able to film 15 percent of the script. Someone did us a favor. Less a whodunit than a “who cares,” The Snowman is truly abominable.