The white stuff

Michael Fass­ben­der plays a griz­zled, hard­drink­ing cop on the trail of a se­rial killer in this chilly adap­ta­tion of Jo Nesbø’s best­selling thriller

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews Film - By Peter Brad­shaw

Dir: To­mas Al­fred­son. With: Michael Fass­ben­der, Re­becca Fer­gu­son. 119 mins. Cert: 15

Of course it is a let­down to dis­cover that Michael Fass­ben­der is not ac­tu­ally play­ing the lead in Ray­mond Briggs’s The Snowman and that he is not, in the words of the song, walk­ing in the air, wear­ing a white cos­tume and car­rot nose, his feet softly ped­alling in the mag­i­cally Christ­massy night sky, and his cal­loused hand in that of a child. In fact, the film he’s in iron­i­cally sports with pre­cisely th­ese im­ages of child­hood in­no­cence. Fass­ben­der is play­ing a se­rial-killer-catch­ing cop in a chilly Scandi pro­ce­dural, on the trail of a mur­derer call­ing him­self the Snowman. The of­fi­cer him­self has the bor­der­line ridicu­lous name of

Harry Hole. He is griz­zled, al­co­holic, rule­book-shred­ding.

Screen­writ­ers Peter Straughan and Hos­sein Amini have adapted Jo Nesbø’s best­selling 2007 crime novel, and the di­rec­tor is To­mas Al­fred­son, who with pro­duc­tion de­signer Maria Djurkovic cre­ates that fa­mil­iar, shop­worn, down-at-heel and of­ten shabby world recog­nis­able from his ear­lier movies such as Tinker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy (2011) and his mod­ern vam­pire classic, Let the Right One In (2008), though here it is al­ways re­freshed and made new by the ever-present sparkling snow.

It’s a ser­vice­able, watch­able thriller, with very grue­some im­ages, co­ag­u­lat­ing around psy­chopatholo­gies of fa­ther ob­ses­sion and son ob­ses­sion, and set in the freez­ing cities of Oslo and Ber­gen, lo­ca­tions that af­ford sweep­ing cityscape views that are made to look cos­mopoli­tan and densely pop­u­lated yet also weirdly re­mote, is­landed and for­bid­ding. The story has its own pulse that keeps it mov­ing along, de­spite a frankly ec­cen­tric flash­back de­tour con­cern­ing an­other hard-drink­ing un­con­ven­tional cop, oddly por­trayed by Val Kilmer, who ap­pears not to have his mind en­tirely on the job, even as he is hit­ting his marks on cam­era. When the story does get on track, you might find your­self be­mused by its re­liance on what ap­pears to be a fic­tional piece of po­lice de­tec­tive kit, called an Evisync, that holds po­lice files and is also a GPS tracker and cam­era but is big­ger and more un­wieldy than an ipad.

The meat of the story is Fass­ben­der and his hunt for the Snowman, a se­rial killer who leaves an ac­tual snowman at the site of his crimes – again, a tricky busi­ness, be­cause mak­ing snow­men is a time-con­sum­ing af­fair and there is ev­ery chance that some­one will re­mem­ber a grown man con­struct­ing one of th­ese.

The Snowman’s back­story is re­vealed at the be­gin­ning of the movie, telling the ori­gin of his trau­matic fix­a­tion with par­ent­hood and or­phan­hood. And, through a quirk of fate, Hole has very sim­i­lar is­sues. His drink­ing and boor­ish be­hav­iour has caused the breakup of his long-term re­la­tion­ship with art dealer Rakel (Char­lotte Gains­bourg), but, poignantly, she wishes to re­main on friendly terms with him, at least partly be­cause Harry had grown to be a lov­ing fa­ther fig­ure to Rakel’s tricky teenage son, Oleg (Michael Yates), as close to him as any bi­o­log­i­cal dad. On the work front, Harry is thrown to­gether with new de­tec­tive Ka­trine (Re­becca Fer­gu­son), who has per­sonal rea­sons of her own for want­ing to nail the Snowman, and also has a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with glitzy, sin­is­ter busi­ness­man Arve Støp (JK Sim­mons).

It is way­ward Kilmer who gets the key role in the film’s best im­age. Seag­ulls are swarm­ing over the Snowman’s lat­est corpse. This cop takes out his gun and fires once into the air, and the birds take off, re­veal­ing the dis­tinc­tive way the killer has chopped up the body into bits, like Saul Bass’s poster illustration for Anatomy of a Mur­der. The vi­o­lence dis­closes the pat­tern.

Fass­ben­der is rea­son­ably plau­si­ble as a drinker, although most drinkers don’t get to look as good or as gym-built as he does. Yet he sells it, and is less re­liant on the jaw-clench­ing, gri­macey man­ner­isms that he some­times goes into. Fass­ben­der is able to do all this at least partly be­cause of ex­cel­lent char­ac­ter sup­port from Gains­bourg and Fer­gu­son. Sim­mons works well as the dys­func­tional mogul who has a dis­con­cert­ing habit of tak­ing pic­tures on his phone of women he’s just met. There is an em­bar­rass­ment of riches in the sup­port­ing roles, ac­tu­ally: Chloë Se­vi­gny has a part play­ing twins and no less an ac­tor than Anne Reid has a tiny cameo as a con­cerned neighbour. If Fass­ben­der gets brought back as Harry Hole for an­other Nesbø film, it would be great to see Reid re­turn, too, with a big­ger role, on ei­ther side of the law.

The Snowman ★★★★★

Cold case … Michael Fass­ben­der as Harry Hole;

be­low, Re­becca Fer­gu­son

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