Rife with potential, the film adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestselling crime novel makes for frustrating viewing, even more so now that director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) recently revealed that 10-15 percent of the script was never filmed. Sadly, there’s probably a good movie buried in it somewhere; ironically, cutting more from the 119-minute running time might have made for a better movie — or at least a slightly more coherent one.
The story is straightforward serial killer thriller fare: A murderer begins targeting single mothers in Oslo, Norway, leaving a snowman facing the victims’ homes as his calling card (seriously). Loose canon police detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) takes up the investigation with the aid of young detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a secret history. They following a trail of vague clues that involve twin sisters (Chloë Sevigny), a rich industrialist trying to bring the Winter Games to Oslo (J.K. Simmons, the only one who attempts a Norwegian accent), a creepy fertility doctor (David Dencik), and a case from several years earlier handled by another alcoholic detective (Val Kilmer) and his partner (Toby Jones).
The movie is almost worth seeing just for Kilmer, who gives a bizarre, affected performance in a handful of badly incorporated flashback scenes; his lines were either re-recorded by him or rewritten and/or recorded by someone else, to strange effect.
In an intriguing and underdeveloped parallel, Hole is also presented as an alcoholic; oddly, we never see him drink or appear drunk, only hungover and/or passed out in public places. Viewers can be forgiven for assuming he’s a narcoleptic. To further extend the troubled cop trope, he has a rebellious teenage son (Michael Yates) and a messy relationship with his ex-wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who has taken up a new boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson)
The plot (scripted by Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, and Søren Sveistrup) meanders across Norway until an obligatory cat-and-mouse game develops between Hole and the killer — during the last 10 minutes of the movie — propelling it toward a perfunctory anti-climax. Once the mess settles, it becomes clear that many of the plot threads add up to absolutely nothing.
The real crime that needs to be investigated here is how so much talent could be so thoroughly wasted. Most directors would kill to have such a stellar cast, who have almost no chemistry together here and often seem as bored as the viewer. The writers have solid work on their respective resumes, but their script is inert and not exactly subtle. Alfredson was brought in last minute to direct after Martin Scorsese pulled out and opted to produce instead, putting the former in the unenviable position of playing catch-up during a shortened shooting schedule that resulted in the aforementioned truncated script.
All things considered, it comes as no surprise that The Snowman falls short of the mark. It’s a story told in patchwork, and most of those involved deserve better.