Reel Talk

The Melted Noir of the Snowman

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So far 2017 has been a pretty great year for movies. There’s been some real classics released this year, and it’s been a real joy to be a fan of film. However, like always, there’s also been some real messes released as well. Which makes sense, no year is ever going to be perfect. And there have been some real garbage movies released this year. Which is why I was a little surprised when I started hearing from some critics that a new titleholder for “worst movie of the year” may have been released. And even more surprised when it was the newly released adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s noir novel, the Snowman. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Nesbo’s novels, but I’ve heard that they’re supposed to be rather good, telling the cases of alcoholic and broken detective Harry Hole. So when I heard that they were adapting one of his novels with a star-studded cast that included Michael Fassbender as Harry, I got excited. I’m always going to be on the lookout for new noir films, and having Fassbender lead a potential series of dark and twisted film seemed like it had a lot of potential. And yet, this is what we got. I’ll say right now, I don’t think that this was the worst film of the year. It’s by no means a good film, but it’s also not the once-a-year train-wreck that I’d been led to believe it was.

The Snowman is the story of Harry Hole, a famous detective in Oslo who has hit a rough patch. Harry is a sullen drunk who needs new cases to distract himself from the shambles that are his life. He drifts around the town, trying his best to spend time with an ex-girlfriend of his named Rakel, and his illegitimate son Oleg, while ignoring Rakel’s oddly-understanding new boyfriend Mathias. However, Hole does find a new case when he’s delivered a strange note fulls of taunts that are signed with a crude snowman. Harry isn’t sure what to make of this, but continues to distract himself when he meets a new recruit named Katrine who is working a missing person’s case. Harry accompanies her to meet with a husband whose wife has gone missing and their daughter. Harry finds the whole situation a little dull and simple, but Katrine informs him that there’s a whole slew of missing women around Norway, often with similar attributes. These women tend to be mothers, around the same age, and more or less physically similar. Harry gets interested in the case, not only because of the possible serial killer, but also because he can’t quite tell why Katrine is so fascinated with the case.

Harry and Katrine continue to work the cases, while new ones continue to arrive. But, things get a little more extreme when they get called out to find a missing woman named Sylvia, only to find her not missing. But this was just the killer showing off, because that night Sylvia is actually kidnapped and murdered, her head placed on a snowman. So, with things escalating, Harry and Katrine start looking for any possible leads, and end up getting drawn into a very strange plot. A local businessman Arve Stop is lobbying to get Oslo picked as the host of a winter sports festival, and Katrine becomes convinced that he and a gynecologist who most of the missing women have seen are behind the crimes. She starts stalking Stop, and in the process gets kidnapped and killed by the serial killer. Harry becomes despondent, and begins working himself harder than ever before, trying to track down the killer. And, in the process, he learns why Katrine was so fixated on the case. Apparently her father Gert was also a detective, and he too had been investigating the kidnappings and possible murders of this Snowman, only to have seemingly committed suicide. Katrine apparently came to believe that Stop had something to do with the case, and had been stalking him for years, only to result in her death. But Stop is a red herring. Harry continues to investigate and finds that the women involved in the kidnappings didn’t just see that gynecologist, they also saw a hormone specialist. Who just so happens to be Rakel’s boyfriend Mathias. And, just as soon as Harry figures this out Mathias drops his pretense, and kidnaps Rakel and Oleg, taking them out to a remote cabin where he grew up. Harry comes to rescue Rakel and Oleg, and ends up confronting Mathias, only for the killer to accidentally slip into a frozen lake a drown. Success?

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I went into this movie. A couple weeks ago I was quite looking forward to this film, hoping that it would be a fun and twisted crime story that had the potential to launch into a franchise. But after hearing some of the early reviews, calling it an incomprehensible slog that barely qualified as a narrative, I became disappointing, and yet oddly intrigued. It’s not often that we get truly terrible films, one that defy explanation and which become learning experiences, sort of “what not to do” lessons. But that’s not quite what I experienced. Like I said earlier, this not a good movie, but it’s also not the worst movie I’ve seen this year. I mean, did those critics not watch Baywatch or Ghost in the Shell? But this film does have a lot of problems. Every female character in this movie seems to exit solely to be tortured and killed, and Harry has not one but two women close to him who are tormented to inspire Harry to fulfill his goal. The acting is all over the place, with most characters feeling like they’re in completely different films from each other. And I have no idea what’s going on with Val Kilmer’s performance in the flashbacks, or why he seems to have been dubbed straight out of a 70’s Italian exploitation flick. The music is absurdly melodramatic and the cinematography is fixed on very strange close-ups and lingering shots to make plot points glaringly obvious.

But the real problem with this film has to be its plot. I did a tad of research, and it seems like they didn’t exactly do a good job of adapting this novel, adding in a lot of extraneous side-plots which completely weigh down this film. This film is based on the seventh Harry Hole story, and it feels like it’s the seventh movie. We’re introduced to the complicated relationship between Harry and Rakel in a sentence, and then it’s just breezed over, because the characters know their situation, and it would be weird to talk about it. But we the audience don’t know what’s going on. Similarly, Harry appears to have had some sort of personal tragedy lately that explains his behavior, but the movie never discusses it, instead having character who are familiar with the event just say they’re sorry. It’s like these character have been in multiple movies, and we’re supposed to know what the deal with Harry Hole is, which is a weird decision to make for your first movie. By the end of the movie I became convinced that this movie was actually adapting two different novels, because so much of this film was ultimately inconsequential to the plot. Basically everything involving Katrine doesn’t need to be in this film. We spend so much time learning about her father and focusing on the plot with Arve Stop, which mean nothing to the plot of this film. The end of this movie is a mad-dash, trying desperately to explain Mathias’ past and his motivations for being a serial killer, but they really don’t make sense. It’s all tossed out one speech before Mathias is unceremoniously killed. Which is just so confusing. Why did this film spend so much of its run time focusing on a plot that ended up not mattering at all, while not spending any time on the plot that did. It’s just a bizarre film, and the story of how it got made would probably be infinitely more interesting than what got released.

 

The Snowman was written by Hossein Amani, Peter Staughan, and Soren Sveistrup, directed by Tomas Alfrdson, and released by Universal Pictures, 2017.

 

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