The cat-and-mouse crime thriller is a fairly easy template to get right. Most films of this ilk aren’t masterpieces but they check enough boxes to be enjoyable for what they are. Yes, we occasionally get something like Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs, but the majority of these films don’t need to be exceptional. They just need to work.
Unfortunately, The Snowman doesn’t even manage to do that.
All the Potential You Could Want
It’s almost miraculous how much The Snowman doesn’t work. Everyone involved in the production is top-tier talent. Director Tomas Alfredson helmed both Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Those are two fantastic films. The three screenwriters have scripted outstanding films and TV shows like Drive, Frank, and The Killing. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer and was even going to direct this at one point. And the cast! Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, and even more solid performers fill the marquee.
The one and only element of the film that manages to work is the cinematography by Dion Beebe. Thanks to some stark framing and stellar landscape work, The Snowman at least manages to look good.
So, how does all of this certified skill get jumbled up and mishandled?
Every Mistake Possible
Whether it’s a product of the multiple writers, a rushed production, or a failed attempt by the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker to save the film in editing, practically everything about The Snowman falls flat. There is no satisfying game of cat-and-mouse between the mysterious serial killer and the investigators trying to catch him. The secret identity of the killer becomes unbearably obvious very early into the film and the reveal feels incredibly limp.
The movie is also bizarrely convoluted. There is an entire storyline involving a wealthy industrialist played by J.K. Simmons that amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of the plot. So much screen time is devoted to this tangent and it is utterly useless. Not to mention that many moments of the film come off as unintentionally funny. Every time a snowman is seen and some menacing music plays, it’s hard not to crack a smile.
It’s also got an incredibly uneven and boring pace. That should be impossible since the entire film is so bare bones and plot-focused. There is almost no significant attention paid to building up the characters as fully formed people. The lip service that is given to the ensemble isn’t enough to make them the least bit interesting.
A Nothing Lead
Which leads us to our main character, Harry Hole. I can’t find any other way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: Harry Hole stinks. He’s a stereotypical drunk cop who also happens to be some kind of super detective. Not only is this a tired trope, but it’s not even presented well in the film.
We are told that Harry is addicted to his work and is revered for… some reason? Nothing in the movie backs up its minimal claims about Harry as an investigator. The only interesting facet of his character is that he seems much more comfortable speaking with children than adults. There are a few scenes that try to get this across, but they don’t explore this idea with any real depth or care. Harry Hole is a void of charisma or determination.
And Michael Fassbender can’t do anything to save him. I love Fassbender but he seems crushed by the weight of this movie. Maybe that choice was deliberate and he thought it would read as world-weary. Instead, it makes Harry Hole impenetrable. In fact, everyone in this movie is either unlikable, underwritten or simply uninteresting.
Is The Snowman Good?
Look, I try to find the positive in a lot of movies. I even gave King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Fifty Shades Darker credit where credit was due. But, with the exception of the solid camerawork, The Snowman is the most disappointing film I’ve seen all year. This should have been an easy win, but everything falls apart and never gets put back together again.
Just watch this The Snowman instead.