The Snow­man

Film re­views & Film Club deals

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - By Demetrios Matheou

The Snow­man (15)

THE dark, hardboiled, at­mo­spheric genre of crime fic­tion, tele­vi­sion and film known as “Nordic noir” has set a very high bar. The Mil­len­nium Tril­ogy, Head­hunters, The Killing and The Bridge are just the tip of the ice­berg that has built a sub­stan­tial fan base.

Add to that the lofty rep­u­ta­tion of Nor­we­gian crime writer Jo Nesbø and the pedi­gree of di­rec­tor To­mas Al­fred­son (Let the Right One In, Tin­ker Tailor Sol­dier Spy) and The Snow­man makes an en­tic­ing prospect.

All of which makes it a per­plex­ing duty to re­port that this adap­ta­tion of Nesbø’s Harry Hole ad­ven­ture, fea­tur­ing the pop­u­lar re­cur­ring char­ac­ter, is a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment. It’s odd that a drama about a se­rial killer whose victims are women and ways of killing them hor­ri­ble should be so lack­ing in ten­sion, hor­ror, pathos and ex­cite­ment, or that a de­tec­tive story can make such heavy weather of its plot. Fans may be dumb­founded, new­com­ers un­moved.

Michael Fass­ben­der plays the aptly named Hole, who we first see as an al­co­holic sleep­ing on park benches, hold­ing onto his daz­zling de­tec­tive’s ca­reer by his fin­ger­tips. Harry is also re­cently es­tranged from his lover Rakel (Char­lotte Gains­bourg) but main­tains friendly re­la­tions be­cause of the bond he’s forged with Rakel’s teenage son.

Sal­va­tion of sorts is al­ways pos­si­ble for Harry, as long as he’s given a meaty case. And he’s got the an­ten­nae for one. Thus he’s quick to join new col­league Ka­trine Bratt (Re­becca Fer­gu­son) as she in­ves­ti­gates a miss­ing per­son case – a mother who we’ve al­ready seen stalked, then taken in the mid­dle of the night while her daugh­ter slept.

There have been other dis­ap­pear­ances, all marked by the pres­ence of elab­o­rately made snow­men at the ab­duc­tion scene, and which are con­nected to a cold case – the un­solved mur­der and dis­mem­ber­ment of a young woman, some 30 years be­fore. One lead points to­wards a clinic that spe­cialises in abor­tion; an­other, in true Nordic noir fash­ion, takes the cops into the pub­lic realm – in this case the Nor­we­gian bid for the Win­ter Olympics and the sleazy, wom­an­is­ing head of the bid.

AL­FRED­SON, who made win­ter snow so un­set­tling in his hor­ror film Let the Right One In, and his cin­e­matog­ra­pher Dion Beebe shoot the var­i­ous snowy lo­cales very evoca­tively. And Nesbø’s min­gling of such a cute im­age as the snow­man with a ma­lign vil­lain does im­part the oc­ca­sional chill.

For his part, Fass­ben­der has the ideal cool for this mi­lieu, and eas­ily im­plies that Hole’s emo­tions are in dire need of a thaw. But it would have been wise to give him more to do with the char­ac­ter; we learn noth­ing about Hole’s demons, his his­tory of drink and what drove him to it; with­out con­text, his dis­ar­ray seems like an easy add-on rather than se­ri­ous char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

And this touches on the chief prob­lem of the film, the screen­play, which never gets into its groove. Char­ac­ters are in­tro­duced, played by good ac­tors (Chloe Se­vi­gny, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones), then just dis­ap­pear; one ma­jor char­ac­ter – in a change from the novel – is given a fate that sim­ply makes no sense; as the leg­endary de­tec­tive stum­bles to­wards a lucky break, it be­comes de­bat­able whether we’re look­ing at cun­ning red her­rings or just shoddy plot­ting.

Writ­ers Peter Straughan (Tin­ker Tailor) and Hos­sein Amini (Drive) have strong form. And in his previous films, Al­fred­son demon­strated a real rigour. But this me­an­ders from one scene to an­other, with­out any great highs to drive it along. And it doesn’t help that, in my hum­ble opinion, the killer’s iden­tity is ob­vi­ous long be­fore the end.

Michael Fass­ben­der as the gnarled de­tec­tive Harry Hole in The Snow­man

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