Out in the Cold

Jo Nesbø's best-selling novel The Snowman becomes a tedious, mind-boggling big-screen procedural

click to enlarge MIchael Fassbender is cold, and this movie is boring.
MIchael Fassbender is cold, and this movie is boring.

He's a drunk — like, a seriously falling-down, passed-out-in-the-streets drunk — and a walking personal disaster. His ex just can't live with him anymore, and refuses to tell their teenage son that he is, in fact, the kid's dad. He's that unreliable, but she nevertheless continues to find him irresistibly attractive.

He's a cop who goes to pieces without a case, but with a case, he's utterly brilliant (but also still a drunk). Which is why his boss covers for him, backdating the paperwork that turns a week-long bender into a pre-approved leave of absence. He's a total screw-up, an angst-ridden mess, a loose cannon who doesn't follow the rules, and yet he's also a seductive genius (allegedly) that no one can live without.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

There isn't a single thing about Oslo detective Harry Hole that is unique, new or even vaguely interesting, except for his name, which only elicits snorts of derision from the viewer. Maybe there is something vaguely fresh in the Harry Hole series of novels by Norwegian noir novelist Jo Nesbø, one of which this is based on, but if so, none of it made it onto the screen. Hole is not intriguing, not appealing, not anything, not even played by Michael Fassbender. Strike that off The Snowman's list of Potential Reasons for This Movie to Exist.

The mystery Hole is investigating is about a serial killer who builds snowmen outside the houses of his victims, snowmen that are supposedly ominous because they look right at the house, as if no one in their right mind would ever do such a thing. Hole's partner on this case — the one he doesn't need and would rather not work with, of course, the one who has been foisted on the lone-wolf genius — is Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who posits that the killer is set off by the falling snow. No one in this movie set in Oslo — the Oslo in Norway, the Norway in Scandinavia, the Scandinavia known for being snowy — during winter gently suggests to Bratt that this is like theorizing that the killer is set off by people breathing around him, and isn't very useful as a clue. Instead, bizarrely, the movie agrees with her, and builds a story around a killer who is set off by (among other things) falling snow.

The mind boggles, which is the only relief from the unrelenting tedium the experience of watching this movie offers.

So what else might The Snowman have to offer? An exotic locale? Well, sure. Director Tomas Alfredson (the stylish Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; the meditative Swedish vampire drama Let the Right One In) shot in Oslo and Bergen and in the countryside in between, and yet all traces of anything Norwegian, such as the language, either spoken or written, have been removed. And the international cast — Irish, British, American, Swedish, French — speaks with a polyglot of accents, including some that appear to have been invented.

I don't know what sort of accent J.K. Simmons, totally wasted as a local politician, thinks he's deploying here. And what's going on with Val Kilmer, as a cop in a flashback subplot? He sounds as if he's been overdubbed by a completely different actor, one with marbles in his mouth and a bizarre idea of a generic Scandinavian accent. It's like a Disneyland version of Norway.

Is The Snowman at least a solid procedural, then? Hole, of course, is no fan of method or strategy beyond striking out on his own, though Bratt, too, cultivates an impressive disdain for the sort of communication and teamwork that criminal investigation demands (all the better to ensure she becomes a damsel in distress). But by the time The Snowman takes this sexist turn, it has already taken another that is infinitely more offensive, so it barely registers in the grand scheme of pointless awfulness that is this movie.♦

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