If Michael Fassbender looks lost, you might join him.

Movies

How a Big-Screen Adaptation of a Norwegian Bestseller Got Lost in Translation

This lurid thriller never seems committed to a character study about a detective with personal demons, nor does it generate sufficient tension as a murder mystery.

Perhaps appropriate considering the wintry Scandinavian backdrop, The Snowman remains emotionally chilly.

Yet that aloofness only serves to further muddle a lurid thriller that’s clearly riding the noir coattails of the English-language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, except this wannabe becomes lost in translation.

Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is an Oslo detective who teams with young police investigator Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) on a case involving a serial killer whose targets are young mothers. The crimes are punctuated with snowmen left at the scene.

Their efforts become complicated when personal turmoil interferes, especially for the selfish Harry, whose ex-wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and teenage stepson become involved due in part to his unhealthy vices. Meanwhile, Katrine might have ulterior motives that further hinder a resolution.

What’s especially alarming is how the film squanders talent on both sides of the camera. A trio of talented screenwriters adapted the novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, and Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) seems like an ideal match for the material. The film’s cinematographer, Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha), and editor, Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull) have each won Oscars. Martin Scorsese was originally attached to direct (and remains an executive producer).

Their combined efforts resulted in a bleak film that’s often visually striking — there’s a certain beauty in seeing red blood on white snow — but also curiously hollow, despite some intriguing if formulaic source material. Nesbo’s book is one of about a dozen in an internationally acclaimed series following the Hole character, although the prospects for a big-screen franchise seem iffy.

At any rate, the film never seems fully committed either to a character study about a detective with personal demons, including alcoholism and a troubled past. Nor does it generate sufficient tension in its central murder mystery, for which the narrative misdirection and abundant red herrings don’t disguise much.

An odd cameo featuring a disheveled Val Kilmer during a handful of flashback sequences appears to be awkwardly dubbed. And the supporting cast including J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, and Chloe Sevigny doesn’t add much depth or complexity.

Despite some instances of brutal violence, The Snowman is tedious and uninvolving. As an exercise in style over substance, it eventually melts into cinematic slush.

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