Edwin Arnaudin: Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has been on a roll over the past decade with the sophisticated vampire thriller Let the Right One In and the airtight adaptation of John le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Six years later, he’s back with another literary whodunnit: Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman. Is his streak still alive or has he joined the ranks of the suddenly broken James Ponsoldt (The Circle) and Darren Aronofsky (mother!)?
Bruce Steele: Well, the scenery is stunning. Kudos for filming a Norwegian story in actual Norway, which I suspect is what attracted some of the A-list cast to the project. And I loved Let the Right One In, which was well suited to Alfredson’s matter-of-fact approach to unnerving subjects. In this case, though, I wanted to be a lot more unnerved than I was. The Snowman may be the first movie about a serial killer who chops up his victims that’s rarely jarring.
Edwin: I also think top talent wanted to work with the guy who made Tinker Tailor, but a gorgeous Scandinavian assignment isn’t a bad bonus. As for Snowman’s disturbing qualities, I agree that the film lacks the consistent dread of, say, a David Fincher tightrope walk — one of many symptoms of a surprisingly sloppy script. Do you get the feeling Alfredson didn’t have final cut privilege this time?
Bruce: No, the film’s measured pacing seems consistent with Alfredson’s other movies. But with three separate writers credited, it looks like they couldn’t get a handle on Nesbø's novel, the seventh in his Harry Hole series. The plot was significantly reworked, and the psychological realism of Nesbo’s writing was mostly lost. The killer never rises above inexplicable whack job, and the travails of detective Harry (Michael Fassbender) don’t take on any real emotional weight until the final scenes. I mean, did this movie move you?
Edwin: Moved? Not really. As we mentioned, the imagery is compelling and the story intrigued me from time to time, occasionally for long stretches — only to lose me with an oddly placed or rushed scene. I think there’s a solid suspense tale scattered in pieces throughout the screenplay, especially with the parallels of a cold case spearheaded by a now deceased detective (Val Kilmer, nearly unrecognizable) and the potential involvement of a sleazy, unscrupulous billionaire (J.K. Simmons). But in its current status, it’s not much more than a good idea in need of revision.
Bruce: “Scattered in pieces.” Good one. Yeah, I didn’t understand the connection of the billionaire plot line to the murder mystery at all, except for one character’s obsession with both. Mostly, though, I was disappointed in the resolution, which is key to a serial killer movie. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say there’s a final table-turning that was so rushed, I don’t know what happened, and the showdown between Harry and the killer was anticlimactic at best. But, hey, the scenery is stunning, right?
Edwin: Right! And hopefully one or both of us will be blurbed on the DVD cover praising the photography. I think what undercuts the investigation the most is the borderline laughable degree to which everyone is interconnected. The convenience and world-shrinking reminds me of the (valid) complaints that arose with The Force Awakens and theories that Rey is a Skywalker or Finn is a Calrissian.
Bruce: I think if you have the Force as an excuse, coincidence is more credible.
Edwin: But why does everyone here have to be related or have histories with one another?
Bruce: I’m guessing Norwegians get that a lot. It’s a small country, right? But point taken. The interconnections are indeed on thin ice — literally. Painterly gorgeous thin ice, I might add. Again. There are a lot of characters here, and while I think it’s not Fassbender’s best work, and Simmons is wasted, I was happy to see Vilmer’s wrecked self, Charlotte Gainsbourg as the former Mrs. Hole and Toby Jones and Chloë Sevigny in small roles. So I found some comforts along the way, in addition to the landscapes. What did you think of co-lead detective Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson)?
Edwin: Like the film overall, I found Ferguson’s newly transferred detective intriguing but underdeveloped. However, she’s the catalyst for getting Harry out of his drunken stupor and focused on work (at which he’s allegedly legendary), and it’s his dedication to the job and love for Gainsbourg’s son (to whom he’s unrelated) that provide his lone redeemable qualities. So, thanks for playing?
Bruce: Apparently Harry and Katrine have a romantic fling in the novel, omitted here – along with a lot of other salient twists and details. I’d be happy to see more Harry Hole novels dramatized – in part because I like saying “Harry Hole” – but his appeal on the page needs better translation. Fortunately, the majestic mountains and snowy fjords speak a universal language. The travelogue aspect alone boosts this murder mystery’s grade to a full C.
Edwin: In an already overstuffed and uneven script, it’s probably best that the tryst was left out. I’d also be down for additional cases with this crew — far more so than the American Assassin gang — but a new screenwriting team is a must. As is, I give this shoddily assembled, yet well-acted and good-looking first try a B-minus.
rade: B-minus. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina CInemark.
(Photos: Universal Pictures)