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Cold comfort for Jo Nesbø fans

FILM REVIEW: The Snowman: Michael Fassbender heads strong cast in Scandi thriller adaptation that sadly lacks suspense.

Charlie Masters

Reporter:

Charlie Masters

Cold comfort for Jo Nesbø fans

The Snowman (15)
Running time 1hr 59min
Rating: **


THE Scandi noir craze having lost much of its momentum of late, this adaptation of Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø’s bestselling whodunnit (a classic of airport literature) might seem a quaint, even unfashionable proposition. A mere glance at the synopsis will reveal tropes familiar to those with even a passing acquaintance with the genre (mind games, troubled cops, messy sexual psychopathologies and even messier crime scenes), but the cast list packs in an enviable string of household names (all of them pronounceable, to boot), with Michael Fassbender slotted into a pair of snow bootsto star as Harry Hole, a hard-drinking Oslo detective. Frankly, while there’s visual nastiness galore, the film’s purest cruelty is in its regard (or, rather, lack thereof) for the viewer. It’s the kind of movie you root for, but which is obsessed with defying your expectations at every juncture and turning up consistently poorer and poorer results – exemplifying, in other words, the sort of twisted dark triad that Hole himself might otherwise have a field day with.

The last Nesbø adaptation, 2011’s Headhunters, was both gleefully suspenseful and blackly hilarious; The Snowman is a vastly more privileged production, but, even with the cream of the Anglo-Saxon acting profession queuing up to feature, the action and design lends it an infuriatingly televisual feel. There’s little of Headhunters’ humour; Hole is a lousy protagonist (somehow, studios have yet to cotton on to the fact that boozy cops ceased to be interesting decades ago), and Fassbender makes for a bizarre casting choice – are we seriously meant to believe that one can abuse substances for years and come out the other end looking like Magneto? His life off the beat is an even bigger cliché, with a long-suffering ex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a wayward son (Michael Yates) to account for when he’s not scouring the landscape in search of
disembodied heads and torsos.

The mystery is preposterous, but far too dull and underdeveloped to demand our attention. Unlike Se7en or Silence of the Lambs, which more than compensated for the barminess of their plots with real dread and tension, The Snowman doesn’t exactly have a handle on tone and peril. The titular serial killer executes their victims with a hit-and-run rashness – with hindsight, I feel guilty for expecting the trailer to reveal the film to be some sort of ghastly crime-comedy a la Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Their schtick (there’s always one) is to build a snowman at the crime scene; putting the plausibility aside for one moment, there’s nothing particularly striking or scary about the concept (though the numerous scenes of mutilation and mayhem might draw a wince or two out of the audience). We actually get a look at the Snowman’s motivations early on, a poor craft decision that instantly robs us of any sense that Hole is up against something genuinely menacing, a criminal force beyond his comprehension. Far from inspiring primal terror in us, the Snowman comes off as a bloody kook, a rabid dog that needs to be put down (and who, in his slapdash flagrancy, would not reasonably be able to get away with a spree of these staggering proportions in the age of iPhones and advanced forensics).

No thriller of The Snowman’s ilk is complete without shots of the bleakly beautiful Scandinavian countryside, and there are a number to be found here, including a rather spectacular (albeit gruesome) setup involving a flock of seagulls. But I’d pass on this one – there’s nothing in this tiresome adaptation you can’t get for free in BBC repeats of The Killing.

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