The Snowman Review
Following the international success of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy and the acclaim of David Fincher's English-language adaptation of first instalment The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hollywood is attempting to tap into the market for Scandinavian Crime even more with this adaptation of Jo Nesbø's bestselling Harry Hole series, starting with the successful seventh entry - The Snowman.
Following the maverick and alcoholic detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) and his teaming up with new arrival Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), as the pair attempt to piece together a cold case (quite literally given the weather) featuring a serial killer of women who seems to be driven to kill by the falling snow; leaving a calling card of built Snowmen and notes containing childish drawings to Harry. The investigation moves across Norway and explores past events to piece together the puzzle too. But why is the killer attempting to communicate with Harry specifically? And can he really trust Katrine Bratt?
The film is most certainly a visual treat. The snowy landscapes of Norway and brittle urbanity of Oslo in particular set a tone that can only be Scandinavian, while the world of Harry Hole - from work to personal life - is pretty well built. It is actually in the moments of character-building for Hole that the film shines brightest, with his complicated relationship with Charlotte Gainsbourg's Rakel and her son Oleg (Michael Yates) being particularly interesting, alongside the detective-with-alcoholism predictabilities and troubles. The climax is brilliantly tense for this very reason, if not entirely clichéd, however, knowing there is a series of books behind the film removes some of this tension.
Additionally, building to this climax, the story can't help but become increasingly obvious in terms of the mystery as it continues - especially to crime fans - as the twists and clichés become more and more evident and red herrings come and go too fast without explanation. Deviations from the book increase as it goes on and seems to become more and more of an imitation of Fincher's filmography (particularly his foray into Larsson's world), but the biggest change from the book seems harsh, unnecessary, and misogynistic. The garish calling card of the Snowman also grows increasingly silly and comical rather than chilling. Some intentional comedy works well though, when Bratt's investigation goes rogue and she encounters J.K Simmons' industrialist.
The performances are great but some cast members are entirely wasted. Fassbender is reliable in his charismatic rough masculinity, with flashes of warmth beneath the icy exterior, a charismatic lead playing a rather stereotypical detective, yet a likeable and realistic one. Charlotte Gainsbourg is also likeable as Harry Hole's on-off lover Rakel, but the real most valuable player is Rebecca Ferguson's Katrine Bratt. Portraying a complicated character with an engrossing journey that makes you wish the story was hers instead, Ferguson is developing a knack for stealing films from her male stars - her best is likely still yet to come. The film is also littered with great actors in supporting roles, but these are glorified cameos - such as J.K. Simmons, Chlöe Sevigny and Toby Jones. Val Kilmer is also a striking visual figure, but is somewhat cartoonish as another trope of a detective who appears in flashbacks and is a painfully obvious parallel to Hole.
Overall, the film is most certainly an entertaining and watchable slice of Scandinavian crime drama, but it rides too much on the coat tails of previous crime films, including the works of David Fincher, and the mystery becomes increasingly obvious, silly and unthreatening, despite the mean-spirited twists away from the book. Alfredson makes a good effort, but fails to make the most of his source material and brilliant ensemble, ultimately providing a mixed bag and an unoriginal genre film. Ferguson is killing it though.