Potential sequels melt away under the critical spotlight

Michael Fassbender in The Snowman

'The Snowman'

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

The word “serviceable” comes to mind for this chilly, not so thrilling thriller. It’s from the mind of Jo Nesbo, who wrote a best-selling series whose protagonist has the unfortunate name of Hole — Harry Hole, a detective with a messy personal life who solves the tough cases for the Oslo Police Department — and one can only assume Hole is pronounced differently in Norwegian. If so, it’s a distinction missed by all in this movie.

Hole is played by Michael Fassbender, and when we meet him, he’s passed out drunk on a park bench. No longer the crime solving star, his alcoholism has consumed him thanks to a bad breakup with his girlfriend, Rakal (Charlotte Gainsbrough). Consider him one in a long line of fictitious detectives with a drinking problem. And why is this? Does a stiff pull on a whisky bottle make it easier to spot the murderer? 

In this case, the murderer enjoys leaving a snowman at his crime scenes, sometimes even adorned with the head of his victims, and vice versa — a gruesome twist made strangely mundane. In Hitchcock parlance, there are a lot of McGuffins: Anyone and everyone looks like the murderer at any point in the movie. Unfortunately, this construct doesn’t make the movie any more interesting.

For all the prevalent sloppy, snowy weather, this is a rather dry procedural that would have been better suited to a three-night miniseries made for television. At least with more hours to eat up there, would have been more character development and less traipsing around in the snow.

The answers to the clues seem to come to Hole and partner Katrine Bratt (the engaging Rebecca Ferguson) with miraculous regularity, allowing them to solve the crime by the two-hour mark. So the killer strikes during a snowfall. Good work! It only snows in Oslo like every other day. His victims are all married women with children. Hmmmm. That’s about half the population of Oslo at least.

The bigger mystery here is how such a great team of actors and off-screen talent ended up making this dud. In addition to Fassbender and Ferguson, there is recent Oscar winner J.K. Simmons as a playboy industrialist, David Dencik as a compromised doctor, and in a really weird turn, a puffy Val Kilmer (with an obvious dubbed-over voice) as an old grizzled police detective.

After seeing “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” in 2011, it’s been on my favorite list ever since. I praised director Tomas Alfredson for taking the dense material from John Le Carre’s spy novel and making it into a coherent and compelling movie. Sadly, he now has the distinction of also being on my worst list, too. Not so much because this movie is bad. It isn’t really. But because there is so much lost potential here. It seems obvious by the film’s end that it’s winking at another Harry Hole movie (there are seven of Nesbo’s novels to work with). I doubt that will happen now after this fumble.

Even Thelma Spoonmaker, an Oscar-winning editor and a frequent Martin Scorsese collaborator, couldn’t perform her usual magic in post-production, and the finished product looks like the movie took several different plot tacks and came up short in the end, not surprising to anyone who has read Nesbo’s book, which contained too many subplots and a complicated storyline that would have never have made it as a two-hour movie treatment.

What’s been cut out and what’s left over is not enough for the patient to survive. Let’s just say it was due to frostbite from a deranged “Snowman.”

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