Movie Review: “The Snowman”

The Snowman

“The Snowman” – a film review by Gary Chew

Gary Chew

Michael Fassbender is way too good a film star to be even caught dead in a new movie produced by Martin Scorsese, and mistakenly be taken for an early Christmas romp for the children. The Snowman was directed by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson. He gave us that superb cold weather 2008 horror film I’m sure you remember called Let The Right One In. But you should not, under any circumstances, allow The Snowman to get any closer than ten feet from your threshold.

The Snowman The script has been adapted from a story by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, noted for spinning highly sophisticated crime novels. Apparently, on the page, The Snowman is too sophisticated for being brought over for purposes of making a film and still retain necessary clarity for those duped into buying a ticket to see it. At least one of the screenwriters has credentials: Peter Straughn, the scribe for 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, plus the totally offbeat and absurd Frank, that also starred Fassbender. As “Frank,” Fassbender never so much as shows his face once in that movie. At all times, Fassbender is wearing a large, paper-maché head that sits on his shoulders. Yes, that was Frank.

The Snowman isn’t trying to be absurd, but it comes off that way, since its incoherence is considerable. It begins with a rather startling scene that depicts a woman drowning in her car as the ice under it has cracked open and the vehicle submerges while her son stands to the side screaming for her to exit the auto. I thought to myself: “Well, this beginning is sort of difficult to appreciate, but I’m sure it will become clear later what this scene means. However, the story just becomes more convoluted and opaque as, seemingly, detached sequences stream by in the icy winter cold of Oslo, Norway. A coda does attempt to define those opening moments, but with all the non-interactive scenes that intervened, one can’t sure what the relationship between the beginning and the ending is.

The SnowmanMy guess is: if one writes a movie script of something that’s already complex or, shall I say again, sophisticated, maybe the film should be distant and only subtly infer or imply important plot points and definitions required to appreciate what the hell is going on. But another thought comes to mind too: could be the writer and director of the film are both so steeped in the original work, each overlooks or neglects the fact that most everyone else who sees their finished product is not so terribly on frequency with the person who dreamt up the tale in the first place. Just sayin’.

Snow Guy is in reality, a police procedural totally unlike anything you’d see on CSI: Los Angeles. The lead detective is played by Fassbender. His name? Why, it’s Harry Hole. Yes, Harry Hole. Requisite side kicks are in tow. And tagging along are the people who play characters suspected by Mr. Hole and the Oslo Police Department of serially killing rather young women who are sometimes pregnant, have a husband and young children. The killer always builds a snowman with ugly eyes and mouth near the crime scene. Victims’ bodies are often found in various states of dismemberment, sometimes merely missing just the head … which may prove to be elsewhere.

The SnowmanThe most non-erotic “love” scene I’ve ever watched in a movie couples Fassbender with Charlotte Gainsbourg.  She’s atop our leading man; he’s on the cold floor. Both are fully clothed, but the director seems to want you to think coitus is occurring just to the left of where the frame abruptly stops, disallowing that you can ascertain such activity is proceeding. It’s really awkward and quite goofy.

I must include here that the indefatigable Val Kilmer does a cameo. I hesitate to even say anything about his participation since there isn’t anyway to really know what his character does or is, insofar as watching the movie is concerned. Val does appear, though, to be not quite sober enough for especially delivering, before the camera, a totally polished performance.

Another seldom seen but memorable actor shows up in a double role. Chloë Sevigny’s performance gets a bit cerebral in more ways than you might possibly want. But, as far as knowing how utterly beautiful Norway and Oslo can be in winter, The Snowman is a stunning travelogue. Maybe it’s Oslo for a week or so … next summer. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

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Gary Chew
Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.
Gary Chew

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