Chilling, not thrilling

For­get Aled Jones singing Walk­ing In The Air, The Snowman is a grisly and tor­tu­ously tan­gled Nordic noir that will leave you cold

Irish Daily Mail - - It’s Friday! - by Brian Viner

ALED JONES trilling Walk­ing In The Air will be a long way from your mind when you sit down to watch The Snowman, which re­sem­bles its charm­ing an­i­mated name­sake in no way at all.

To­mas Al­fred­son’s film is more Ray­mond Chan­dler than Ray­mond Briggs, but even that is to un­der­sell its sheer nas­ti­ness, as a se­rial killer in win­try Nor­way goes about his busi­ness with a macabre rel­ish for scat­ter­ing body parts.

Each time he strikes, with women who are moth­ers or preg­nant his par­tic­u­lar spe­cial­ity, he leaves a snowman as his call­ing card.

A bliz­zard of ex­pec­ta­tion has greeted The Snowman, which is based on Jo Nesbo’s best­selling crime novel and stars Michael Fass­ben­der as Nesbo’s flawed hero, Oslo de­tec­tive Harry Hole.

Al­fred­son made a fine job of adapt­ing John le Carre’s Tinker, Tai­lor, Sol­dier, Spy (2011) for the big screen; he knows how to in­fuse a chal­leng­ing plot with mood and style. But The Snowman, cowrit­ten by Hos­sein Amini (Our Kind Of Traitor) and Peter Straughan (who worked on Tinker, Tai­lor), doesn’t quite mea­sure up to all that lofty an­tic­i­pa­tion.

Part of the prob­lem is that so-called Nordic noir has be­come such a fix­ture th­ese past few years on tele­vi­sion, where it is well-served by an episodic struc­ture un­fold­ing over sev­eral weeks. Here, ex­pect­ing more of the same, we find our­selves with a whole lot of story to cram into two hours and five min­utes.

That leaves very lit­tle room for de­vel­op­ing Harry’s hard-drink­ing, melan­cholic char­ac­ter, so cen­tral to the nov­els. He could be any old mav­er­ick de­tec­tive, frankly, in any old for­mu­laic thriller.

Al­fred­son tries hard — at times too hard — to make his film dis­tinc­tive. It’s both ex­tremely grue­some, and, in its use of the Nor­we­gian land­scape, rather beau­ti­ful. And it has an un­de­ni­ably classy cast.

Along­side Fass­ben­der, Re­becca Fer­gu­son, Char­lotte Gains­bourg, J. K. Sim­mons, Val Kilmer, Chloe Se­vi­gny, an un­der-used Toby Jones and an even more un­der-used Anne Reid all do their best to straighten out the con­vo­luted story. Mind you, just when you think you know what’s go­ing on and who has done what to whom, Al­fred­son dan­gles yet an­other red her­ring.

Be­ing Swedish, he prob­a­bly souses them, too. There is a largely in­di­gestible smor­gas­bord of the wretched things. I can tell you, how­ever, that a

dis­turb­ing pre-cred­its scene should not be missed. It both sets the tone for what is to come, and helps to make some kind of sense of the even­tual de­noue­ment.

A mid­dle-aged man ar­rives at a re­mote house in the Nor­we­gian boon­docks, and there sub­jects a boy to a his­tory test, wal­lop­ing the child’s mother ev­ery time he gets an an­swer wrong.

This deeply nasty scene has tragic con­se­quences, but then we skip for­ward in time to find Harry com­ing round from a drunken stu­por. Fass­ben­der sports a pair of mildly red-rimmed eyes to show us he is play­ing a chain-smok­ing drunk, though he has omit­ted to go the full De Niro or DayLewis and get flabby.

As hope­less ine­bri­ates with dis­as­trous per­sonal lives go, Harry is the best-look­ing, most tautly-mus­cled ex­am­ple of the species that you will ever see.

He is also, of course, Oslo po­lice depart­ment’s most bril­liant sleuth, even though his boss de­spairs of him as all bosses of all mav­er­ick de­tec­tives al­ways do.

‘I need a case to work on,’ he tells his boss.

‘I apol­o­gise for Oslo’s low mur­der rate,’ comes the re­ply.

But that’s the cue for all hell to break loose, as one wo­man af­ter an­other goes miss­ing, to be found chopped into pieces.

Since the be­gin­ning of the film, Oslo’s mur­der rate has gone through the roof, and that’s not count­ing a cou­ple of sus­pi­cious and very grisly sui­cides.

NOMINALLY in charge of the case is a new­comer to the Oslo force, Ka­trine Bratt (Fer­gu­son), though she, it turns out, also has other fish to fry — and not all of them red her­rings.

Will Harry find ro­mance with her, or rekin­dle it with his ex-girl­friend Rakel (Gains­bourg)? The chances of the lat­ter seem re­mote be­cause there’s a new fella in Rakel’s life

By now, Al­fred­son is au­di­bly crank­ing up the ten­sion. When Harry fol­lows a trail of clues up to Bor­gen, even his train ar­rives at the sta­tion buf­fers in omi­nous fash­ion, with a plain­tive cello ac­com­pa­ni­ment. Mean­while, back in Oslo, there’s great ex­cite­ment over a bid for the Win­ter World Cup, led by a creepy ty­coon played by J. K. Sim­mons.

Add to all this a se­ries of flash­backs to yet an­other mav­er­ick de­tec­tive (Kilmer) with yet an­other de­spair­ing boss (Jones) and you can un­der­stand why The Snowman is so hard to fol­low.

It looks great, but only as a tri­umph of style over sub­stance. I’m sorry to say it left me cold.

Icy stare: Michael Fass­ben­der as de­tec­tive Harry Hole, and, in­set, Re­becca Fer­gu­son

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