Jo Nesbo is a Norwegian crime novellist known the world over for revolutionizing modern crime fiction and has won a great many awards in addition to his popularity. Tomas Alfredson is a Swedish film director known in the United States primarily for the Academy Award nominated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as well as the horror classic Let the Right One In. You would think that putting these two gentlemen together along with the phenomenal acting talent of Michael Fassbender would guarantee a quality film just awaiting critical acclaim and the attention of the film awards circuit. That, however, is not to be the fate of The Snowman, a film which despite the pedigree of its acting, writing, and directing talents went horribly wrong.
The film opens with a series of camera shots you would expect in a Bourne film fight scene with a series of quick close ups and zoom outs cut together so quickly you barely have a moment to make out what you are seeing on screen. But, this isn’t an action scene. It’s just following a man entering a house then sitting at a table. It’s an interesting choice that the most mundane action possible is filmed via frantic camerawork, but this is only done once. Shortly after this we have a strange zoom through the windshield of a car which is reminiscent of an effect someone would use to show a space ship going into faster than light travel in a science fiction film, but it’s used for someone who is just pulling out of their garage normally. One shot of this drive uses a very obvious CGI close up of the back of the car so out of date it looks like it was created in 1992, but none of the rest of the drive uses CGI at all, and again, it’s for the most part just a normal drive through a snowy landscape. No high speed chase, no stunt work. Again, nothing like this is shown again in the movie. It’s just a strange choice for no obvious reason.
The acting choices made throughout the film are also odd, so odd that there were times if I wondered if anyone in the movie had ever actually met another human being before. Two characters will stare meaningfully at one another as if they were sharing some dark secret silently that only they know, or perhaps one is warning the other that they know what the other is up to only to find in the very next scene seconds later that the two have never met and are now being introduced. Fassbender’s Harry Hole at one point attacks a person doing repair work on his apartment, and chases the repair person into the street, and we never know why nor hear from the character of the repair person again. In fact, stares, awkward silences, and two people seemingly having completely different conversations as they speak past one another seems more common in this film than normal, recognizable human interaction.
I think these strange choices all have a reason which was found out near the film’s end, but that reason is in itself so bizarre if I am correct that it just adds yet another strange choice to the myriad of others rather than clarify anything. Without spoiling anything, one of the characters has a trait that is a major influence on the actions of another, and all this monkeying around with strange interactions and camera work seems to be a hint to the audience about this character trait. The trouble is that not only could this trait have been far more easily shown in mere seconds than by hinting for an entire movie, but there also seems no reason whatsoever to keep that trait a secret from the audience.
There are some gorgeous shots of the Norwegian landscape in The Snowman, as well as some excellent framing of the city of Oslo, though I have to wonder does every house in Norway have windows on the inside so people can see into living rooms and bedrooms and the like? Even the film being set in Norway is odd since every character speaks in English, American English, for the entire film with no establishing that they are actually speaking in Norwegian but are being broadcast in English for the sake of ease. In the end, there is no reason to have the film set in Norway over anywhere else in the world, so why not just relocate the film to a cold climate in the United States if they are speaking American English? This is a nitpick more than a major complaint, but when added to everything else in the film, it is just one more strange, pointless decision added to the pile.
Add all these factors together, and the crime thriller element of The Snowman just does not work partially because you are so distracted by the amateurism on display and partially because you are too busy laughing and scratching your head to be engaged in the plot. Michael Fassbender was once an actor who would get my excited for his next project, and was good enough that I was willing to give what seemed bad choices the benefit of the doubt, but with his last few films including X-Men: Apocalypse, Assassin’s Creed, Alien: Covenant, and now The Snowman I have to now label him as an excellent actor who makes horrible decisions as to which roles to play.
Final verdict: The Snowman is not quite so incompetently made as to be so bad it’s entertaining, but many of its scenes are and film as a whole only barely misses that mark. Incomprehensible writing, acting, and directorial decisions add up to make a film which leaves the audience more concerned with the ineptitude of the film makers than with the actual story. Unless a handful of good shots of snowy landscapes are enough to pique your interest, there is nothing of value in The Snowman to recommend. While the story itself does make sense, nothing about the way that story is put together does.