Fassbender used to be one of those actors you could rely on. His films might not always be great, but his presence was usually a benchmark of some quality, and he was always watchable. After the puzzlingly dull Assassin’s Creed and infuriatingly pointless Alien Covenant, he is on something of a slick with this third dud (and Jobs was hardly a triumph). It’s not a slick that’s as long, wide or odorous as, say Adam Sandler, but it’s causing the neighbours some concerns. To his credit, he does look cool as dishevelled cop Harry Hole in this adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s thriller. In fact he looks too good, he’s a walking advert for dipsomania – if getting pissed and waking up on park benches leaves you looking as toned as Fassbender then everyone will be on that regime. There are moments, such as when he’s talking to a little girl, where he brings the warmth and empathy that made him so watchable in the likes of Frank. But generally he’s wasted in an incoherent mess of a film that not even the editing prowess of Thelma Schoonmaker can salvage. I would say what follows may contain spoilers, but really, I can’t spoil this film more than it manages itself.
If we were investigating the murder of this film, then television would be locked up straight away. Nordic noir, and subsequent versions (French noir, American gothic, even Welsh noir) in series like The Killing, The Bridge and True Detective, have pretty much killed off the detective film. The Snowman could be used as a teaching aid to illustrate this. In the longer format of the TV series we get to know about characters, and therefore care if they are put in peril. In The Snowman we are introduced to a character and within thirty seconds they are being decapitated. In the twelve part series the longer arc of the narrative allows the (always damaged) psyche and back story of the detectives to be explored. In this we are presented with Hole’s alcoholism as a fact (which everyone gives a lot of slack to) and Rebecca Ferguson’s emotional back story is rushed through so we don’t feel any of the tension in her involvement.
The plot also seems conventional and hackneyed now, given our exposure to these programmes. A misogynistic killer who seeks revenge on women for psychological damage in his past by despatching them in an elaborate fashion. Do we really need another one of these? It was good to see a prize launched recently for thriller writing that doesn’t feature violence against women. Of course, sexual violence is a reality, but it needs to be handled better than this and be used as more than a set up for the detective to find redemption and as a route to set pieces.
But the real puzzle in this film is the casting. I have never seen a film where the casting has caused such head scratching. I genuinely have no idea what Chloe Sevigny, Val Kilmer or Toby Jones are doing in this film, by which I mean, why are they cast, and what do their characters add? None of them appears longer than a few minutes and they just leave you with a puzzled look on your face. In the case of Kilmer this is particularly odd – shots are frequently cut from behind, and you suspect dubbed over. (I have since found out he is suffering from throat cancer so presumably speaking difficulties curtailed his role). He has two scenes where he stands dramatically on a precipice. And that’s it. In this Kilmer proves again that he is the opposite of Fassbender’s previous guarantee of a level of quality.
Sevigny is even more bizarre, we meet her, she is killed immediately, she then reappears as the murdered woman’s twin, and then we never see her again. Why is she a twin? Why cast Sevigny for this slight role? I suspect they will show this film as a warning to future casting directors: “Remember The Snowman” is pinned above their desks.
It does have very nice scenery though.