Swedish director Tomas Alfredson reinvigorated the vampire movie with Let the Right One In and found the heartache and conspiracy inside the espionage thriller with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. So on paper, he'd be the one to deliver something fresh and memorable with a cop thriller like The Snowman. Unfortunately, despite a talented cast and crew, there's nothing new or special about this film.
One of the things I've loved about Michael Fassbender is how deeply committed he seems to every performance, whether he's playing a supervillain, slave master or sex addict. So I was surprised how much he seems to be going through the motions as Detective Harry Hole (yes, really), a barely functional alcoholic who's the best homicide investigator in Oslo, an ironic title given their low murder rate.
In one of dozens of clichés the film will indulge in, he's given a new partner: the young, eager Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems more interested in a cold case involving the death of another detective than their current investigation. That would be the hunt for a killer who builds snowmen at each crime scene, and also removes the heads of his victims to place them on top later. While the latter is certainly gruesome, the movie's smash cuts to regular snowmen (with heavy bass on the soundtrack to emphasize its intensity) elicited more laughter than screams at the screening I attended.
The movie also features an extremely clumsy tech angle that feels like it's trying way to hard to include video clips as twists. It would have been much more satisfying had they done this an old-fashioned way (or even set it in the past).
Harry – in yet another cliché – also has to contend with his ex-wife Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg, in a role that requires none of her special skills or fearlessness) and her teenage son Oleg, whom he's still trying to help raise. Yes, he forgets a lot of Oleg's special events and yes, he hates Rakel's new boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson). Again, the film does absolutely nothing new with this dynamic.
It would be easy to overlook this stuff if there was more to it, but the cinematography and icy setting can only do so much. (It doesn't help that Wind River did wintry murder mystery much better this year.) The movie is really kind of a mess, with the clues from the past adding up to a whole lot of nothing. J.K. Simmons (as a shady businessman) and Val Kilmer (as the drunken detective who was tracking the Snowman years earlier) are completely wasted, which is a shame since they're getting to play outside their typical roles.
While The Snowman is watchable and the mystery can hold your attention, this is a major disappointment on every level. It's merely OK when everything about it should have made it great.