Skip to main content

I apologise for Oslo's low murder rate.

The Snowman
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Maybe Morton Tyldum made Jo Nesbø adaptations look deceptively easy with Headhunters, although Tyldum hasn’t show such facility with material since, so maybe Nesbø simply suits someone with hackier sensibilities than Tomas Alfredson. It’s a long way down from the classy intrigue of John Le Carré to the serial killer clichés of The Snowman, and I’m inclined to think that, even if Alfredson had managed to film that 15% of the screenplay he says went awry, this wouldn’t have been all that great.


Because that’s Alfredson’s excuse, and as they go, it’s a fairly good one. Working Title’s involvement in the project raises eyebrows since they tend to run a tight, selective ship, but even they’re prone to missteps (Grimsby).  They had, after all, made a surprising success of the pared-down Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Alfredson, so there was probably no reason to think they couldn’t strike gold together again. Perhaps The Snowman was just too commercial. Or perhaps the serial killer genre, while still alive in print and Nordic realms, is spent on the big screen. Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a relative bust, after all. We might even lay its failure at the door of the Red Sparrow effect: the incongruity of English-speaking thesps portraying characters in non-English speaking countries. It might have been an everyday thing once, but today one can legitimately argue people should suck it and learn to read subtitles (or, if you really must adapt it, relocate it to the US, or Britain). 

 

The Snowman wasn’t merely ignored, though; it was visibly spurned. There are nice things to say about the movie – Dion Beebe’s cinematography is gorgeous. You might not be persuaded to live somewhere so chilly, but you can’t deny Norway looks incredibly picturesque. And the cast are eclectic, even if no one ever gets a chance to exactly shine – a movie with Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson in the leads, supported by JK Simmons, Toby Jones, David Denick, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Val Kilmer can’t be all bad. 


Unfortunately, there’s no point at which Alfredson (aided by the efforts of successive editors Claire Simpson and Thelma Schoonmaker – Scorsese was pegged to direct at one point, but made Shutter Island, so it was clearly a toss-up between schlock at Marty Towers that weekend) engages with the material. The killer’s modus operandi seems almost like a parody of such fare (leaving snowmen at the scene of his crimes, and eventually the head of a victim atop one) as does his motivation (he murders women who don’t want their offspring because his mother never wanted him – or so he has assumed, due to her effective suicide, corrected in Harry Hole’s rather trite reinterpretation that it was actually his absent, abusive father he resented; this element is a revision of the novel, where he murdered his mother on discovering his father wasn’t his father). 


Harry himself is a walking tortured genius, but without being especially interesting with it. He’s an alcoholic – when he doesn’t have a case, it’s that Sherlock Holmes thing but with booze rather than opiates – and comes armed with a string of failed interpersonal relationships, as admitted during a rather ludicrous expository climax in which the killer threatens his ex (Gainsborough) and her son (Michael Yates, not that one) unless Harry admits to his foibles (“Because I’m selfish. Because I’m an addict. There isn’t enough room for them”). Fassbender looks far too healthy for one abusing himself in such chronic fashion, and the movie has to be chalked up as yet another of his doomed attempts to kick start a franchise (Assassin’s Creed was also a bust, so he has to make do with Erik Lehnsherr for the time being). 


Not all the excisions from the source material are necessarily a bad idea. I certainly can’t fault not making Ferguson’s Katrina Bratt a suspect (or was this simply part of the 15% that didn’t get filmed?), which is surely the last resort of the writer desperate for red herrings. On the other hand, she’s unceremoniously killed off here, but goes on to become Harry’s boss in the novels (this being the seventh of them). Her being the daughter of Val Kilmer’s detective Rafto might have worked better if there was some degree of emotional investment in either character. Instead, there’s some tricksy time-shifting, such that we aren’t’ aware Rafto has been dead eight years until Harry finds out. There’s also the problem that poor Val, recovering from throat cancer, is hardly in the movie and has been unceremoniously dubbed, so the character seems even more disconnected from the proceedings.


If The Snowman were more engrossing, the lack of viable suspects among the main characters would probably have highlighted the actual culprit even earlier (Sea of Love syndrome, although at least there we had compelling lead performances propping up the weaknesses of the plot); Denick’s dodgy doctor and Simmons’ businessman only ever seem to be included as distractions, which leaves James D’Arcy’s grieving husband and Jonas Karlsson as Gainsbourg’s boyfriend, the latter further underlying the silliness of the proceedings (that the killer should be someone you know ought really to apply to the victim, rather than the cop investigating the case). 


I wouldn’t say The Snowman is straight-up incomprehensible, as some reviews have suggested, but itisdisjointed to the point of distraction. And there’s an additional problem when material this dour and tonally earnest is hinged to plotting so pulpy that it really needs a Paul Verhoeven to bring out the guilty pleasure side. As it is, I suspect Harry Hole will find his home, probably not dissimilarly to Tom Cruise’s failed attempt at a Jack Reacher franchise, on the small screen, where the material is given a chance to breathe and unfold with due care and attention to chronology. And who knows, if Netflix goes fishing for it, it might even end up airing in its native language.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Doctor, eh? You’re not in the best of shape yourself, though, are you?

Doctor Who  Season 26 – Worst to Best
I’m not a big Seventh Doctor fan. For me, Doctor Who pretty much ended with Season 23 (and not because it was awful: see here). Yes, there have been a few nu-Who reprieves (mostly notably Matt Smith’s first season), but the McCoy era flaunted an abundance of sins, from a lead who wasn’t up to snuff, to a script-editor messaging his social conscience wrapped in a breeze block (or bilge bag), to production values that made any given earlier era look absurdly lavish in comparison. And then there was the “masterplan” (which at least lends Season 24 a rather innocuous and relatively inoffensive quality by contrast).

Nevertheless, on the occasions I do return to the era, I’m always minded to give it a fair shake. And while that resolve inevitably crumbles within minutes, under the duress of cold harsh reality, it has, at times, led to a positive reappraisal (The Happiness Patrol, and, to an extent, perhaps unfathomably, Time and the Rani). So we’ll see ho…

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.